Every generation gets the weirdo artists it deserves. A decade ago, My Chemical Romance was ready and willing to fill a void for the rejects, and did so with incredible grace.
It was a quick build, but a natural one. MCR was born from the suburbs of New Jersey, wrote a bunch of songs about vampires and fantastical things for a while, and found its footing on its second LP, 2004's Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge.
Before them, there wasn't anything like them: these nerdy, comic-obsessed dudes wrote songs about the isolation they felt through the lens of Queen-inspired theatrics. It was aggressive and guitar-driven, but dependent on melody. It made them the kings of mall emo, the gods of Hot Topic, and they owned it, because these were songs about adolescence and growth. Finally, there was a rock band that could be cool and for the outcasts. The mainstream rise culminated in "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)," where frontman Gerard Way didn't suggest, but demanded we learn it's okay to not be okay. For people of a certain age and generation, it was a crucial message.
It seemed like a weird blip in pop-culture, a momentary masterpiece. It was the time pop-punk was at its most popular and emo reigned supreme, but My Chemical Romance were always a little bit different. Whereas many of their peers were preoccupied with unrequited crushes in their hometown, MCR wrote big rock songs. They played with concepts. Three Cheers was their first foray into the stuff, and that ambition reached its pinnacle two years later with 2006's The Black Parade.
Instead of rocking women's jeans and dramatic makeup, the guys chose to really create a world—not just talk about one. They succeeded. Not only did The Black Parade become the most dynamic release of their career, it became the one that allowed them to experience real critical success, something previous unheard-of in a genre branded by the three-letter e word. Kids liked you, journalists didn't. MCR was the exception.
Much of the album's greatness can be found in its foundation: The Black Parade is a concept album, one that follows the story of "The Patient." It chronicles his or her death and subsequent afterlife. Death arrives in the form of the Black Parade, as heard in the single, "Welcome to the Black Parade." From there, "The Patient" embarks on a series of misadventures, perhaps best encapsulated in the singles "Famous Last Words" and "I Don't Love You." It's bleak, but in a beautiful way.
Beyond the David Bowie-esque theatrics and storytelling, The Black Parade is an album of intriguing structure. There are songs here that shouldn't work: "Mama" is a slow-burner, one that features Liza Minnelli. That in and of itself is a feat—an album largely written for young people boasts of a classic actress. "Teenagers," arguably the most beloved song on the release, is written around the12-bar blues. It's a certain guitar structure that doesn't always work in pop songs, and wouldn't again until 5 Seconds of Summer's "She's Kinda Hot" nearly a decade later.
In an interview with Alternative Press, guitarist Ray Toro said of the album, "The intention was to make something that was classic, something timeless. Something that 20 or 30 years from now, parents could play for their kids and say, 'This is what I was listening to when I was your age. Check it out, it’s still fucking cool.’ We wanted to make a record you could pass down. There’s a lot of music out now that doesn’t feel like that."
They managed to do that in a way that's nothing short of spectacular—this album was ambitious, but not overly so. MCR was able to deliver its vision in a way that was accessible and inspiring, securing the group's place as an important voice in music, for teens and others, for emo fans and pop ones alike.
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