Sound — 8
In celebration of the one year anniversary of "Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys", I thought it was time to delve into the record for a full review. Though this somewhat lessens the hype factor, it hopefully increases accuracy. After the massive successes of 2004's "Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge" and 2006's "The Black Parade", My Chemical Romance faced a crisis. Having achieved mainstream attention only to be disowned by the media as a whole in a "death cult" controversy, frontman Gerard Way faced many of the same issues previous icons have, primarily with his and his band's image. With their 2009 cover of Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row" for the "Watchmen" soundtrack, it was suspected the band would take to the proto-punk look. This was, in a sense, confirmed in interviews following. The band began to speak of a stripped-down sound for their fourth release, though with the departure of drummer Bob Bryar came rumors of something entirely new. A trailer featuring the opening "Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)" was released, sporting laser guns, a Trans-AM, and the band dressed in triumphantly colorful, leathery outfits. The My Chemical Romance fanbase was thus introduced to post-apocalyptic California 2019. The album opens with Dr Death Defying, who acquaints the listener with this desert world in a flurry of "Clockwork Orange"-like slang, and blasts into "Na Na Na". Instead of stripped-down proto punk, a ridiculously glam/punk/Batman theme (listen for it) fusion thrusts the listener into an exciting, almost sci-fi world. As bizarre at it sounds coming from "Famous Last Words" or even the Dylan cover, this is as Chemical Romance as it gets. Although it barely resembles anything released by the band in the past, there is an undeniable energy and deftness with which the song (and those following) are crafted. This band has gone from being a rock band leaning in the darker direction to being a rock band, period, and they've done it as though "Danger Days" is their fourth time around. Another interesting aspect of the record is its cinematic nature. Though the 2019 world lends itself to a narrative album just as the plots to the band's previous albums have, the musical structure of "Danger Days" suggests the best of film in the eighties. With "Look Alive Sunshine/Na Na Na" acting as a prologue, the album falls into opening credits with "Bulletproof Heart". Being one of a few tracks reworked for "Danger Days", "Bulletproof Heart" in its 2010 (or, shall I say, 2019?) incarnation is a no-holds-barred mixture of eighties rock/pop with a gentle but deliberate My Chemical Romance touch in crafting it. Despite its vast dissimilarities with "Helena" or "Vampires Will Never Hurt You", the style is handled by all members with just as much familiarity. Look out for some surprising (but exciting) "doo wop"s in the second verse. "SING" is fascinating. As strange as it gets following, this may be the most bizarre track on the record. Though it is somewhat straightforward (perhaps even pandering to a mainstream audience to some degree), it is also the hardest to call a My Chemical Romance song. Yes, it follows their previously established "individualist" ideology, which is exactly what makes it difficult to listen to. Though one can certainly fit it into the context of an oppressive government in 2019, the blatancy of the track may very easily interrupt the listening experience. Unlike "Thank You For The Venom", which was a bit too vague to directly relate to any individual religious group and a bit too easy to fit into the storyline, "SING" speaks directly to a very American youth. By planting it firmly in 21st century America, not only validity, but longevity, is threatened. Despite this, it is a very ominous and engaging song. "Planetary (GO!)" has come under much scrutiny for how outgoing it is, but in light of how well the band has handled outright energy up to now, I don't see it as a terrible track, or even as anything but a very good one. Yes, the techno vibe is hard to swallow at first, but it expands "Danger Days" in scope by including not only glam and pop, but the more synthesized sounds of the previous age. Gerard Way's vocals are particularly smooth in certain areas, which, as the voice behind "I'm Not Okay", he should most certainly be applauded for. Diversity is a prominent musical theme in this album, and he is at the front lines of it. "The Only Hope For Me Is You" presents a challenge: combining My Chemical Romance past and future. Preceding the "Jet Star And The Kobra Kid" interlude as it does, the track marks the end of the album's first half. At the same time, it offers some closure for those who may otherwise find fault in the band's drastic change in sound by combining the feel of "Danger Days" with something of a post-"Black Parade" flavor. It presents the most "modern" sound, a sort of alt/rock with some synthesized elements. Save for "Na Na Na", it has the strongest chorus in the first half, and the fiercest guitars. After a brief check-up from Dr Death Defying, the album launches into the album's better half. "Party Poison" is a thrilling proto-punk/glam combo, complete with raucous clapping of hands and a great guitar riff. Reworked from a previous fan-favorite "Death Before Disco", the song has a firmer stake in the Californian desert sand. Here, guitarists Frank Iero and Ray Toro have some of their best moments, which up to now have been somewhat blindsided by other elements. This is especially upsetting considering the previous two releases from the band and an excellent symmetry between the two (See "Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge" for the best of this relationship). "Party Poison" has arguably the biggest ending on the album, and pulls us even further along the "Danger Days" roller coaster. "Save Yourself, I'll Hold Them Back" is another reworked track, though nothing but circa-2009-or-2010 interviews would give that away. We're into the eighties and nineties now - Bon Jovi elements thrown into a Guns N' Roses thrill with an opening almost reminiscent of Incubus. Though it has one of the weaker chorus builds, it also boasts one of the better guitar solos and uses of profanity. From this point on, please excuse any bias. After a year, I have become terribly attached to "S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W", and it has been one of my favorites from the beginning. This is the song that comes with a realization that My Chemical Romance could well have been at the forefront of post-Magical Mystery Tour weirdness. Not only is the song odd in its very self, but technique and grandiose in every seeping second excuse any "but this isn't their old stuff" syndrome. The song is crafted with such mastery, it could well have been hailed as one of their best, given the chance. Way's voice melts into every verse, and the bridge feels about ten miles high. This is one of My Chemical Romance's biggest-sounding songs ever, and though its outrageousness may alienate it from the charts, it does not in any way deter from the album. Keeping with the record's tradition of celebrating the many faces of rock, it adds a magnificent layer to an already exciting release. Pop wand synth were prominent elements in "Bulletproof Heart", but synth/pop itself was kept for "Summertime". As the band's first real honest-to-goodness love song, it's an appropriate route to take. What was not expected was the song's overwhelmingly genuine lyrical/musical bond. The band is well-known for, at times, painful honesty, but as in the case of many other songs, "Summertime" feels very real. It may as well have come straight out of the era from whence it draws inspiration. This isn't just another kiddie love song. Presumably devoting it to some extent to his wife, Way handles the song very meticulously and compassionately. The result is a touching little piece that will undoubtedly be overshadowed by "I Don't Love You" which, while a decent song, has nowhere near the beautiful honesty (and elating guitars) of "Summertime". "DESTROYA" evokes much of the nineties, primarily grunge (in the veins of Rage Against The Machine, to a degree, and others). Following the incredible creativity of the record up to this point, "DESTROYA" is a bit hard to reconcile with. It does everything most of the other songs do, though perhaps a bit less blatantly. That may be why I still can't fall in love with this song - it doesn't try hard enough, yet it tries too hard. It gives very little, but attempts to force that little bit down. Once you've swallowed, there isn't much in terms of nourishment. It isn't a final battle with the corrupt either, yet "The Kids From Yesterday" would sound strange coming immediately after "Summertime". To put it shortly, though "DESTROYA" is required to get us from one place to another, it could have been handled with much more oomph than it is. That being said, the ride-into-the-sunset, "The Kids From Yesterday", is an incredible reconciliation with past-and-present-My Chemical Romance. Yes, it serves its purpose otherwise, but let's be candid. It doesn't hurt to throw in a bit of what the band is, does it? The track does end "Danger Days" on a soaring, slightly U2-ish note, but it gives fans who have grown up with them a sense of closure. Lyrically, it is just as honest as "Summertime," and just as mature. Musically, it is just as interesting as "S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W", and just as gutting. It's just as new as any of the other songs, and just as interesting. It really is one of the band's best endings, if not the best when traditional album structure is taken into account. Truly touching; very beautiful. Of course, how can we forget to say goodbye to the Doctor? He sends us on our way with a strange piece of advice before dropping the most stereotypical (thus, the least expected!) bit of radio in existence. A year later, you should be expecting it, but I won't spoil the surprise for newcomers. Of course, as cinematic as this album has been so far, where are our credits? The band has one last hurrah with "Vampire Money", which does suggest what the album in its stripped-down form might have been, but how could anything be half as fun as this? A blend of just about every proto-punk/punk band you can think of (and perhaps some Beach Boys?), My Chemical Romance has their flipping-the-bird-to-Twilight-and-everything-else moment. This is unequivocally the most outright fun the band has to offer in the most outright way. See if you don't want to be in a band after this. That's what rock is about, isn't it? Though arriving with a couple of hiccups, "Danger Days", takes the history of rock and melds it with the future of laser guns and angry Asian dictator chicks ("Party Poison" if you don't believe me). Not only that, but My Chemical Romance present it in a way that feels fresh out of the box and done just as well as those who came before them. By no stretch is this a "copy, paste" album. There is a distinct individuality in the songs, the album, and the band, just as with 2006's glam/rock vibes. Once again, the band has shown a mastery of just having fun, now in Technicolor.
Lyrics — 8
Gerard Way has shown himself to be a master of, really, three genres up to now. With the band's post-hardcore debut, a story of (demolition) lovers and vampires was skillfully played out. "Three Cheers" illustrated in the band's tantalizingly dark version of alt/punk the tale of a man's somewhat questionable attempts to reunite with a lost one. "The Black Parade" took the concept of a concept album to new heights, blasting with all the glamor of Queen and Pink Floyd and quite possibly surpassing the craftmanship of Green Day's "American Idiot". Look, kids, Billie Joe may be a frontman capable of playing the same three chords in every other song, but Ray Toro is a guitarist. Each of these releases has a very distinct lyrical personality which, admittedly, took some time to evolve into as restrained a character as "The Black Parade" is ("I'm not o-f**king-kay?") Excluding this, "Danger Days" has the least cheesy moments of the bunch, though "SING" treads the line with its all-too-preachy bridge. Way handles most of the songs as they should be, proving himself surprisingly adaptable. "S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W" sounds bizarre; "Vampire Money" sounds proto; "Save Yourself, I'll Hold Them Back" sounds like hair rock. He may yet prove to be one of the better writers of our time, especially with "The Kids From Yesterday" and the aforementioned Magical Mystery tribute. He surpasses anything expected in the vocal department, though some of his better screams (circa-2006) screams are missed.
Overall Impression — 8
It was expected that "Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys" would be somewhat dismissed. Not only does it alienate many of the die-hard fans of previous releases, but it stirs the same spirit of fandom as those. The combination of old fans leaving and new fans coming in gives critical media very little to do with the album, and it is forgotten (here's a tip: any critic using the word "bubble-gum" didn't actually listen to whatever they're talking about). Understandable though this is, it certainly has left "Danger Days" the odd one out. Those familiar with the band are beginning to resemble the eternal unhappiness of the die-hard purist "Star Wars" fandom. What is missed is one of the best releases of 2010, and one of the best releases since. Its structure is creative; its music is stellar; its delivery is genuine. The entire album could be summarized in one word: fearless. "Spirited" is less flamboyant but just as appropriate, as the album does delivery the spirit of what rock, punk, alternative, grunge, and all the rest have been. We all want a band who'll make us want to jump up onstage and scream our lungs out. "Danger Days" delivers that in an outrageous air guitar solo, a crazed acid trip, and a few dozen "na na"s.