My Chemical Romance — A Retrospective

My Chemical Romance — A Retrospective

October 23rd will mark the tenth anniversary of My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, the mid-2000’s most seminal, explosive and morbid rock opera. Fans ride or die for My Chemical Romance, even now they have broken up, and after four courageous albums and years of blood, sweat and tears it seems only right to look back at what five New Jersey geeks gave to contemporary music. 

The Black Parade is not my favourite My Chemical Romance album, but it is an impressive monument to what the band stood for while they were active, and what they have come to stand for posthumously. The Black Parade is simultaneously morbid, triumphant, and technically and musically immense. Starting with I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love (Eyeball Records, 2002), and perfecting the art with Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge (Reprise Records, 2004), My Chemical Romance oscillate between visceral, brutal guitars and vocals, frantic drums, and hooky pop hits. 

Guitarists Ray Toro and Frank Iero come together like nothing else; while Toro learnt at the feet of Iron Maiden and Metallica, Iero is of the punk school and is always one with his guitar. As co-writers they blend soaring metal solos with four-chord pop and punk progressions. On Bullets they hit the mark with “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville”, a song so beautiful and melancholy it might just be my favourite song ever. On Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, songs like “Thank You For The Venom” and “The Jetset Life is Gonna Kill You” show off the brute power of the band, while “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” and “Helena” suck the listener into the world My Chemical Romance have constructed, a world where misery and insecurity can produce catchy anthems that co-exist quite happily alongside wailing, shredding guitars and splatters of fake blood. 

The Black Parade builds on what My Chemical Romance set up in their first two albums. Some of it is hard to digest, almost tauntingly grim, while the rest competently and confidently shows off its pop chops. Gerard Way (singer/songwriter) kills you at the start of the album when he glibly sings on “The End.”: “if you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see/ you can find out first hand what it’s like to be me”, but by the end of the album it’s as though he and the rest of My Chemical Romance have your back when in the screaming chorus of “Famous Last Words” he sings over and over, “I am not afraid to keep on living”, a simple, but stringently powerful line. The Black Parade starts at what seems like the end, the ultimate pit of despair and moribund self-loathing, and drags you through all the darkness, every little death being alive puts you through, but you still come out unafraid, in spite of it all. 

The Black Parade was the My Chemical Romance people loved to mock, the dark eye make-up, the military costumes, the haircuts. But, I don’t know a single person (emo or not) whose ears don’t prick up at the opening note of “Welcome to the Black Parade”, who can’t sing all of the censored lines in “Teenagers”, or even anyone who hasn’t at some point screamed “I Don’t Love You” at karaoke (and also sung along to the guitar solo). The Black Parade is My Chemical Romance showing the world that it is possible to combine genuine, aching emotion with fantasy and large-scale melodrama. 

My Chemical Romance have never been a cool band to like. They were always chronically uncool because they came at their art with unhinged enthusiasm and passion. They were the kind of musicians who hand painted a t-shirt to say “Thank You For The Venom” two years before the album featuring that song came out, the kind of musicians who staged funeral processions outside their concerts, who coated themselves in blood and wore matching costumes. I saw My Chemical Romance in 2012, only a short while before they broke up, and it was transcendent. They were five guys who cared very deeply about their music and their fans, who plugged in their guitars and played and sang with unwavering, furious focus. In the end it didn’t matter that My Chemical Romance were never cool, because for people who were always a little too invested in what they loved, who always tried too hard, My Chemical Romance were the epitome of being who you wanted to be. Ten years on, The Black Parade is still a beacon, a magnificent light in the dark of a post-emo-revival world.  

This article first appeared in Issue 24, 2016.
Posted 12:48pm Saturday 24th September 2016 by Millicent Lovelock.