Sound — 8
Jersey-born My Chemical Romance began as a post-hardcore act that evolved into the pop-punk macabre party of 2004: the apple of every emo's eye. "Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge", the band's second release, rocketed the quintet into stardom that year, though shortly followed by a drummer swap for Bob Bryar. The band toured their new-found fame to death (appropriate considering the band's candid take on themes such as mortality, the supernatural, and suicide) before heading back into the studio for 2006's smash hit "The Black Parade". Far from collapsing under the weight of "Three Cheers", the album was Marilyn Manson-esque in its polarized critical praise and controversy, outselling and expanding the band's already relentless touring schedule. Ambition and meticulousness are encoded into the album's DNA, and it is in the same spirit that I breaking from my tradition of avoiding personal pronouns and commentary - write my final My Chemical Romance review, following the band's 2013 split. Over the course of the band's career, a tradition or two of their own seemed to emerge: specifically, the use concept albums and extremely varied sounds between albums. The band's 2002 debut featured post-hardcore with lyrics akin to any metal band's folklore fascination, though more in tune with a B-movie or horror comic than Iron Maiden's satanic exploits. "Three Cheers" featured linear notes parodying blockbuster horror, telling the story of "a man, a woman, and the corpses of a thousand evil men" told to the backdrop of a violently emotional form of pop/punk. Now, armed with a legion of eyeliner-loving fans (only some of whom made the connection between My Chemical Romance and, say, the Misfits), "The Black Parade" dispels any and all constraints with an even more dramatic evolution. This time around, elements of glam, blues, and metal creep their way into the Romance. "The Black Parade" is My Chemical Romance's first rock album. Continuing the band's favorite brand of irony utterly aware that we're in on the joke the record opens with "The End.", a track so heavily layered in its Floydian guitar riff that there are, according to guitarist Ray Toro, octaves played not immediately distinguishable (if at all): "Rob [Cavallo, producer] came up with the idea of playing the main riff in every octave possible on the guitar." (from the album's deluxe edition Making Of booklet). Though not staggeringly innovative, it is one of many moments of depth throughout the record, suggesting that the band spared no expense on creating the next big rock album. The Floyd references don't end there; "Mama" has a bridge right out of "The Wall"'s big finale, and some of the record's themes recall that album. Queen shows up in "Welcome To The Black Parade" in Toro's solo, though it is less overt and therefore less intrusive to anyone familiar with Queen's discography. "This Is How I Disappear" likewise recalls Iron Maiden, and is the closest the band comes to a truly metal song. If there is one flaw in the record, it is that it, perhaps, recalls the band's heroes a bit too often. Fans of "The Wall" especially will hear "In The Flesh?" in "The End." and "The Trial" in "Mama". At no time does it deter the listening experience, and "The Black Parade" is so much less pedantic than "The Wall" that the similarities are mainly in the album's supposed story line, which is explained at length by the band but referred to only thematically in the songs. The greatest changes for the band come with "I Don't Love You" and "Cancer", both ballads in their own right. "I Don't Love You" is big and brash, while "Cancer" (in which bassist Mikey Way is actually distinguishable!) is the band's only piano-driven track (apart from the satirical hidden track, "Blood"). Experimentation is more helpful than hurtful, though "Cancer" in particular feels uncomfortable among classic My Chemical Romance. In the context of the record, however, it adds honest tragedy to some of the black humor. Instrumentation is at its best on "The Black Parade"; the addition of Bryar on drums gives the record a power neither of its predecessors had. The guitars sound bigger and badder, with "Dead!" blasting its solo and "House Of Wolves" giving Toro an opportunity to well shred. The duality from "Three Cheers" is still distinguishable in "Teenagers", though big numbers such as "Mama" and "Disenchanted" (a solemn goodbye of sorts) are crafted as a full song, rather than by the band's individual parts. Unfortunately, guitarist Frank Iero is less present than on "Three Cheers", though what he does bring to the record is equally exciting. Even without this element so key in the band's previous releases the songs are astounding. Most of all, they sound massive. Additionally, "The Black Parade" distinguishes itself with atmospheric introductions ("The End.", "Mama", "Sleep") and anthemic choruses surpassing the depth of anything previous. "Famous Last Words" is a notably powerful track, featuring the best performances on the entire record. Cavallo's production intensifies every note, often matching or out-performing his previous 2000s rock hit, Green Day's "American Idiot". With "The Black Parade", My Chemical Romance has finally found the vessel for their unabashed love of rock, theatrics, and emotional storytelling. The songs are more distinctive from one another than those on "Three Cheers", and often more interesting musically. Bryar brings a punch previously unseen by the band. If the band's aim was to redefine itself, it achieved that goal and them some: with "American Idiot", it stands as one of the great releases in the dwindling post-9/11 world of rock. Some moments almost approach their influences a bit rapidly (though "American Idiot" certainly had that problem in regards to The Who), though they pass by just as rapidly and brilliantly disguise extinct genres for a new audience. Most importantly, "The Black Parade" opens the band to an even wider audience, and proves once again that there is no single My Chemical Romance sound nor, it seems, do they need one.
Lyrics — 8
"The Black Parade" dresses singer/songwriter Gerard Way in the clothes of The Patient, the album's cancer-sick protagonist. The record, similar to "The Wall" or "The Final Cut", journeys through his life as he wastes away in a hospital bed. Rarely are these elements explicitly outlined "The End." could mean anything though the point is always communicated masterfully. One common criticism of "The Wall" is its tendency to use its narrative to drift from one centerpiece to the next, often swallowing several minutes along the way. "The Black Parade" suffers none of this, crafting each and every song to stand on its own in a very big way. The narrative is the colorful pictures that aid those struggling with the abstract nature of thematic rock opera, rather than the words of the book. The Patient's story is used to explore some of the band's favorite topics self-image, fear, betrayal, and death and a few new faces; among these are sex, trauma, violence, and maturity. "Dead!" is condescending of wasted time in a tonal satire of sorts: "No one ever had much nice to say/I think they never liked you anyway... If life ain't just a joke/Then why am I dead?" "The Sharpest Lives" is a drunken ramble in which the Patient pledges "a kiss and I will surrender" while confessing "I'm drunk, I suppose", while the occasional moan (or outright scream) is suggestive of malicious intent. "House Of Wolves" may be the most closely related to the story's narrative, with themes of mortality, guilt, and sin: "I think I'm gonna burn in Hell... I've been a bad motherf--ker" and other rants litter the track. "Sleep" is an insomniatic guilt trip, with the Patient experiencing night terrors of family members' deaths. It isn't all despair: each track, hopeless as it is, almost always looks up: "Tell me I'm a bad man" in "House Of Wolves" is almost desperately blatant in its need to confess and repent. Finally, "Famous Last Words" signs off with something of a cliffhanger ending: does the patient die? Does he live? This is never addressed, but the point is clear: "The Black Parade" is, in the end, about neither lament nor despair, but hope. As "Welcome To The Black Parade" insists "we'll carry on," the finale growls into "I am not afraid to keep on living." Many records boast great music, but few delve into as many subjects as "The Black Parade". Perhaps its greatest strength is the freedom and daring to scrutinize the same people and analyze the same motives as acts like Pink Floyd. The songs are not about romantic encounters, nor self-important rants over need for affection, nor even suicide letters. My Chemical Romance, as this record suggests, is very progress-oriented and very interested in solutions. Every facet of every topic is thoroughly explored, with not one loose end among its many thematic endeavors. Lyrically, the occasional "soggy from the chemo" will interrupt, but it is as quickly forgiven as the reverent musical elements. The story is far from intrusive: The Patient, at some points, becomes irrelevant, and "The Black Parade" transforms into a very personal, very intimate experience. It asks questions everyone is interested in again, akin very much to Marilyn Manson and other figures of controversy. Neither answer nor solution is bottled and sold, or even brought to light. Truly, this is the strong point of "The Black Parade"'s storytelling and lyricism. Gerard Way has shown marked improvement with each release, and "The Black Parade" is no different and entirely different. Stylistically, he is much wider and more striking than on either "Bullets" or "Three Cheers". He blasts through every lyric like a sucker punch, provided he isn't crooning with the intimacy missing from other bands of the age. "Mama" is a cacophony of character acting (Liza Minnelli notwithstanding). "Disenchanted" is particularly strong, with both sides boldly on display, though "Welcome To The Black Parade" is the best example of vocal range and "Famous Last Words" is staggering. "The Black Parade" elevates Way into rock star status, effectively shedding past identities, for as well as they worked for their respective eras.
Overall Impression — 9
"The Black Parade" is My Chemical Romance's great novel; their anthem; the heart and soul of the band. It sees greater musical capability, an melodic range astounding for its inspiration and age, and more hits than any other release from the band. Even without the broad narrative and the Sgt Pepper outfits, it challenges more deeply than any other My Chemical Romance record. It is far darker than either "Bullets" or "Three Cheers", but not for more blood or melodramatics or more "emo". It is darker because it is simply more human. It is simply more vulnerable. It digs into every crevice of The Patient even when it isn't detailing one little detail of his or her life, and thus gnaws at the listener and demands every ounce of attention. Musically, it is today's equivalent to emotional roller coasters like "The Wall" and "Tommy", often casting away the flaws each of those records sported. It is the great adventure of a great band. "The Black Parade" is, simply put, a classic.