Sound — 6
Following the massive success of 2006's "The Black Parade", Jersey-based My Chemical Romance ended a length of touring with suggestions of a stripped down, dirtier sound. They made a brief pit stop in this sound with the Dylan cover of "Desolation Row" for the "Watchmen" in 2009 (complete with a music video with delightful homage to the early punk movement) before embarking on a recording of the successor to "Parade". The new album was conceived before what eventually became 2010's "Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys", but never released due to what could best be described as "creative indifference" among other reasons, the band simply wasn't pleased with the material. While they had reached their goal of creating individual rock songs with a certain spirit, the tracks did not fit a cohesive album that whole the band so value. With the departure of drummer Bob Bryar shortly after, the tracks from the 2009 sessions were scrapped, while a handful were recycled for "Danger Days". Come 2012, guitarist Frank Iero announced via the band's website that they had revisited and decided to release the shelved tracks in pairs of two over the course of five months. Running from October 2012 to February 2013, these collections (each titled simple "Number One" through "Number Five") were known as "Conventional Weapons". The collection is precisely what was promised by the band high-energy songs with heavy influence from early punk and a few breeds of 80s rock. Each release had an individuality about it, but the tracks do mesh somewhat truly, however, they can be better recognized as a collection than as an album; there is very little (almost no) communication between the tracks an uncomfortable departure from the likes of work as early as "I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love" (2002). The reasons for scrapping the record become apparent very quickly: while the songs are for the most part enjoyable, they don't come together as a unit. My Chemical Romance's trademark storytelling is seldom to be found, and while the sound of the "record" is distinctly theirs, the cohesion is utterly lost. Similarities between some of the tracks make the collection feel crowded, and the inclusion of some of the weaker tracks ("AMBULANCE", "Make Room!!!!") makes it feel rather disjointed. Quite simply, some of the time it works, some of the time it does not. One welcome addition to the collection is "Number Three", which includes the live favorite "The World Is Ugly" (though a heavier, more anthemic version) and "The Light Behind Your Eyes". The former especially is an emotive ballad along the lines of "I Don't Love You". "The World Is Ugly" is no weaker with the polish this version has, and features a very chilling nod to the band's debut release (think Blink-182's "Adam's Song" and its Nirvana reference). If "Danger Days" was a love letter to rock and its variants, "Conventional Weapons" is the P.S. attached for the punk-and-rock fans in particular. It has a couple of thrills ("Boy Division", "Kiss The Ring") that will draw the attention of fans of the genre and of the band, and an equally slight selection (particularly "Burn Bright", the band's biggest anthem to date) that finds itself on par with the band's other studio work. However, the disjointed feel does prevent it from feeling like "one of the boys", falling short even next to the nearly-unsettling variety of "Danger Days". It's certainly good work, but not always consistent work. At times, its placement behind "Danger Days" becomes a bit too apparent (even disregarding "Make Room!!!!" having a line later recycled, to much greater effect, for "Na Na Na"). The great moments (you must check out "Burn Bright", "Boy Division", "Kiss The Ring", and "The Light Behind Your Eyes" at the very least) stick out as "what should have been", rather than complimenting the whole experience. Some of it blends too much, some of it just won't mix.
Lyrics — 7
Singer/songwriter Gerard Way has always been a writer of steady but distinct improvement the difference between "Cubicles" and "Disenchanted" is almost painfully apparent. The writing on "Conventional Weapons", as a result, falls about where you'd expect a post-"Black-Parade"-pre-"Danger-Days" album to fall. Some of the lyrics are pretty damn exciting (the explosive opening of "Boy Division" and the resolve of "Burn Bright" come to mind), some are as inspiringly emotional as one would expect from the band ("The Light Behind Your Eyes"), some are as irritatingly emotional as one would expect from the band ("AMBULANCE" and the "you don't know a thing about this life" line), and some are pretty average ("Surrender The Night", "Gun."), and some stick out as unnecessarily painful ("Make Room!!!!" and its excessive repetition of the otherwise decent "everybody wants to change the world, but no one wants to die" line, later used beautifully on "Na Na Na"). Similar to the music, the lyrics are a pretty mixed bag. Way is exciting to listen to most of the time, which isn't anything new, but there is a particular energy akin to their live performances that was definitely captured here. It's the charisma that many (especially pop and pop/punk) singers sorely lack. If there's one thing My Chem benefits from with employment of theatricality (and there are many things), it's fun vocal work. However, the curves of songs like "S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W" and "The Sharpest Lives" are sometimes missed. Because the musicality is less experimental, the performances feel slightly lifeless at times. In Way's case, this is most apparent in "Number Two", which features "AMBULANCE" and "Gun." He keeps above water for the most part, and is truly the soul of this release (which features fewer distinct musical segments than any other). "The World Is Ugly" has slightly less impact in the emotional department not because of the style itself, but because of Way's direction as a result of it. It's still a fantastic track, and the experimentation is greatly appreciated from a critical/creative standpoint, but it falls somewhere firmly between "powerful" and "punchy"; the tragic beauty (to some extent, a staple of Way's performances) is lost in this version. In the meantime, "The Light Behind Your Eyes" (with "Burn Bright") takes over as the emotional core of the collection: driven and p-ssed off.
Overall Impression — 7
The phrase essentially summarizes the compilation's message the melodrama of the band's other work is missing, which is neither a deterrent nor an advantage, and the result is precisely the stripped-down experience the band hinted at. As a result, the album acts as a general commentary (driven and p-ssed off) rather than a life lesson (as seen in essentially every other release). It's a nice break from the norm, but certainly could've been executed with greater consistency. The musical performances are all less powerful than before, and the songs tend to sound more "my name is Gerard Way and these are the boys." They're good songs, to be certain some great but Ray's distinctive solos (from "Thank You For The Venom" to "Welcome To The Black Parade" and even "S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W") aren't often highlighted and nor, for that matter, is Bob Bryar's last drum work for the band. In both cases (not to mention that of bassist Mikey Way and Iero), I can simply say that the job is done. Few liberties are taken, few places are truly lazy. There isn't really a definitive beginning-middle-end structure (whether the tracks were arranged according to similarity or to achieve an "album feel" is unknown to me). It is so painfully apparent that efforts were made to create (good) individual songs that it's hard to believe where the whole "album" thing was during the writing process. Snapshot albums (so to speak) are well and fine, but without some sense of identity, an entire album containing (GOOD) individual songs can fall completely flat. "Conventional Weapons" avoids this by quite a margin, but, like an itch that won't subside, the feeling that this album simply wasn't meant to be is present throughout the (GOOD!) journey.