Sound — 7
What with getting their start and writing their first song ("Skylines And Turnstiles") - almost immediately following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11th, 2001, it comes as little surprise that New Jersey's My Chemical Romance sports a grueling, morbid image. 2002's debut "I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love" features the silhouette of a man hung upside-down by his feet, coated in disturbing shades of brown. It's a subtle piece, and does a job in hinting at some of the nuance the band itself had already mastered with its first release. Though generally a post-hardcore album, "Bullets" contains elements of early punk, particularly in the way of the Misfits and Black Flag. Close listeners of the Smashing Pumpkins may notice also the occasional nod primarily in the attitude of singer/songwriter Gerard Way. None of the references at all detracts from the experience, and acts more as a layer of inspiration, rather than direct influence. Those who grew up with the same music will relate closely to My Chemical Romance before the first note. On the note of notes; the record opens with an atmospheric rendition of "Romance Anonimo" (here, simply known as "Romance"), sauteed in lo-fi radio effects for a sepia-stained ambiance. Rather than burst into the all-out creepshow "Honey, This Mirror Isn't Big Enough For The Two Of Us", the record begins painting its macabre story with something of a Western influence (suggested later in the record, as well as in the linear notes and artwork). This is storytelling at work from the first beat and it intrigues in all the right ways. In the first minute of the record, this lowers a backdrop that is gloomy, relevant, and slightly off-beat is already introduced. Excess in gloom is offset in equal helpings with pure, unabashed energy. "Honey" thumps the record along, suggesting from the outset that the heart of the record beats twice as fast as its already indefatigable creators. Guitarists Ray Toro and Frank Iero balance each other out wonderfully, with the riffs coming from Toro and melodies from Iero. It's a bizarre combination of metal and punk that, miraculously, works. Drummer Matt Pellisier is the backbone of the band's hardcore elements, even if the production mostly mutes his notable love affair with cymbals. Bass work is mostly buried beneath other elements, but as hundreds of bands have suffered from the same effect since the format was standardized, it's a pleasant surprise when bassist Mikey Way (younger brother of singer Gerard) is heard, rather than a disappointment when he isn't. Every track between "Honey" and "Skylines And Turnstiles" is some brand or another of My Chem's post-hardcore, and the record breathes nicely with the Cure-meets-Pumpkins "Early Sunsets Over Monroeville" before launching, of course, back into mosh mode with "This Is The Best Day Ever". The final-three-song formula is done with care; "Best Day Ever" acts as a last hurrah, "Cubicles" winds down with an essential reoccurring theme outlined (addressed further ahead), and "Demolition Lovers" is a magnificent, multi-layered ending featuring the album's most tender and most brutal moments in the space of about six minutes. For all its vigor, "Bullets" runs at a mercifully short thirty-seven minutes long enough to get a point across without overstaying the sound. Even in the stretch of five or six tunes preceding "Monroeville", the band injects enough variation to keep the record rolling. "Vampires Will Never Hurt You" is arguably the album at its best, where "Our Lady Of Sorrows" rocks the hardest and "Headfirst For Halos" is the closest independent hardcore gets to sounding produced by big-name pros. Each track is scarily good. "I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love" introduces in My Chemical Romance a fresh face to the Jersey (and general hardcore) scene. Toro and Iero's rejuvenating dynamic is simply unseen in any other band; duality breaks traditions set by eons of players of yesteryear. Together with the elder Way and Pellisier, the band mixes hardcore, punk, metal, and a few elements of alternative to forge one hell of a hardcore thrill.
Lyrics — 6
"Bullets" dwells primarily in vampiric and other ghostly imagery; much of it is less self-important than others with the same ink and more akin to Rob Zombie's state of mind that is to say, one large facetious with a slice of sardonicism on the side. Some of it is intentionally grim, some of it isn't entirely self-conscious. Particularly, some of the tracks stressing the "Romance" bit, such as "Cubicles" and "Drowning Lessons" are pretty bleak, with no way around it. This kind of melodrama is offset with the utterly un-serious (though vital) "Headfirst For Halos", which throws Peter Pan references in alongside candid discussion of suicide. To some extent, the elevated tone in the lyrics is a great example of the narrator's elevated state of mind and with ironically cheery music to go with it. "Halos" and other tracks are exemplary of the band's ability to transform songs about murder and ghosts into an extremely digestible comic book, without losing any depth. The band consistently challenges emotion, crises, and points of view. "Our Lady Of Sorrows" is reminiscent of Marilyn Manson circa "Holy Wood" challenging the listener without altogether presenting an opinion on anything but those with the opinion challenged. One of the refreshing things about My Chem's writing is the candor with which they perform while actively maintaining an avoidance of assimilating the audience into any particular collective. Bodies are strewn across the record; the listener is left to sort through it all. Having suffered through a tooth abscess during much of the recording, Gerard Way's vocal work is decidedly messy his style is quite clearly in the realm of post-hardcore, but independent of the style - some moments are of questionable articulation. Apart from the odd sloppy consonant, Way is as energetic and entertaining as the rest of the band, perfectly selling the record's most histrionic moments without a shadow of artifice. As in the case of the music, however, the listener's enjoyment of Way and the record as a whole may hinge on ability to translate irony and sort through some of the noise. There's a lot to enjoy lyrically, vocally, and the rest but at times demands that the audience be in on the joke or the genre. Regardless, the band does more with the pennies than countless debuts before.
Overall Impression — 7
With "Bullets" My Chemical Romance opens a promising career with a bang and a few gallons of fake blood. The record brings personality to a genre few master, while introducing elements in a style entirely their own. "Bullets" offers itself up to every ghoul it meets as a refreshing fusion of rock's favorite step brothers. Some of the imagery will be on the dramatic end of "dark", though very little of the record does this without complete awareness. Even without the need to dismiss some of the record's in-jokes, it stands as a landmark for the genre and an achievement for the band whether as a first outing or a third.