Released October 23, 2006
51 min, 53 sec
I have a month of Apple Music because of Frank Ocean (thanks asshole), so I figure that I should go ahead and make it useful for the rest of the month. Spotify will be back whenever. Who cares?
Man, remember emo music?
In the mid-2000s, as we established in the last article, I was a young, impressionable middle schooler, finally discovering a world of music outside of Hillary Duff and Aly & AJ. By 2006, I was soliciting music recommendations from everyone I knew, and it frequently led to choices that I look back on and question.
This one both is and isn’t one of them.
My Chemical Romance had a fascinating arc as a band. Forming in 2001, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, by the release of their second album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge in 2004, they’d built up a large national following, and became the flag-bearers for young teenagers all over the country. Their music was anchored by fast-paced riffs, hard-hitting drums, and melodramatic lyrics and vocal delivery, all of which became hallmarks of emo music, which hit the peak of its popularity right around 2006 and 2007, with My Chemical Romance, The Used, Taking Back Sunday, and Fall Out Boy all leading the charge. If you were a 13-year-old girl at this time, these were your heroes. And for everyone else, these bands all churned out strong radio hits that were catchy and enjoyable; MCR’s biggest hit at this point was “Helena” from their aforementioned second album, catapulting them into superstardom and riding the wave of emo music’s popularity as far as they could take it. The culmination of that was The Black Parade, the band’s magnum opus, released on October 23, 2006.
My Chemical Romance has always been a narrative-driven band. All four of their studio albums are concept albums; I Brought You My Bullets… and Three Cheers were two parts of one loose narrative. The Black Parade, however, was far more ambitious, with a more strongly-defined narrative arc, focused around the protagonist referred to as “The Patient.” The Patient dies at the very beginning of the album, and the rest of the album details The Patient’s journey as the Black Parade, the form of death The Patient imagines, comes to take him away, as he reminisces about his life and the events that led to his death.
Musically, the album is rather typical MCR fare, matching the outline I laid out above pretty well. But there are a lot of songs that go above and beyond, becoming infectious in how catchy they are. “Welcome to the Black Parade” is the obvious one, still getting decent radio play ten years after its initial release. But songs like “Dead,” “Cancer,” and the album-ending trio of “Teenagers,” “Disenchanted,” and “Famous Last Words” demonstrate that MCR had a strong grasp on musicality and crafting truly great riffs and melodies. The primary riff of “Disenchanted” is wonderful in how understated it is, and how that rhythm builds and is manipulated as the track escalates in scale and aggression. “Famous Last Words” is the best song on the album from top to bottom, a defiant final statement with plenty of satisfying musical moments, such as how Gerard Way’s voice rises to match the higher octave of the song’s main riff in the second verse, or how the music slowly fades out at the end of the song, leaving Way’s vocals to stand on their own to close out the album.
But remember that this is emo music, and emo is an inherently juvenile genre, aimed squarely at teens and preteens who can’t wait to be teens. You’ll either be singing along or rolling your eyes throughout the entire album – probably both. Because all of My Chemical Romance’s albums, and the genre as a whole, is like 80s synthpop – inextricably linked to the decade it debuted in. Emo is a 2000s genre through and through. A band like MCR could never gain a real foothold in the musical environment of 2016. It’s, frankly, too obnoxious a style. It’s too melodramatic, with Way frequently singing as though he’s being held at gunpoint, or as if he’s just been shot. It’s the exact sort of quasi-rebel music that I would have loved as a teenager, if I’d decided to delve more into the scene that MCR created. But I didn’t. The Black Parade is the only album I ever listened to from start to finish of any of the bands to hit their peak in the emo era, unless you count Panic! at the Disco. But I don’t want to so I won’t.
Though, when I say that I listened to this album, I mean that I loved it. The Black Parade immediately became one of my favorite albums when I first got it, and though I couldn’t possibly imagine thinking that now, it’s still a decent listen. A little hard to get through now, but decent. But back then, I loved it so much that I actually stole from my mom in order to get it.
Now that you’ve stopped laughing, here’s the story: in October 2006, when the album had just come out, I really, really wanted it. But Christmas was two months away, and I wasn’t particularly about to ask my mom for this album and have to explain both the band name and the album itself, and why it had that shitty fucking Parental Advisory label on it. So, instead, this is what happened. My friend’s birthday was coming up in November, and my mom gave me her debit card to go to Target and get him a gift – a Bionicle set. So, with my mother’s card, and knowing her PIN, I went to the ATM in Target and withdrew something like twenty-five bucks, enough to buy both the set and the CD. I bought both, and threw away the receipt as I left, tucked the CD into my waistband as I rode my bike back home, and told my mom that the recent had fallen out of my pocket as I was riding home.
Because I was a 13-year-old, my mother didn’t trust my word, so while I snuck the CD into my room and ripped it to my computer, she called the bank and found out her balance, realizing immediately that she was missing about 13 dollars from her account. Incidentally, that was the price of the CD. So she spends half an hour on the phone with the bank, arguing about how it happened, trying to figure out where her money went, as I’m sitting on the couch sweating my ass off, trying to play it cool and failing miserably. Eventually, as she starts to get seriously upset about it, I broke and told her that I’d taken the money and bought a CD with it. And, predictably, justifiably, she was furious. She took the CD from me and told me that I’d never be allowed to use her card again. (That didn’t stick.) By December, though, she’d mostly gotten over it, and returned the CD to me as a Christmas gift.
Son of the year material, folks.
But I was 13 and I didn’t know how to torrent at the time, so what else was I supposed to do? I grew up in a fairly poor household after my parents’ divorce, though I was fortunate enough to not realize it basically until college, or at least, it wasn’t something I thought about a lot, which is as much as you can ask for when you grow up in a situation like that. It never made me unhappy. But when I think back to times like that, when my mother is practically in tears on the phone trying to figure out where those 13 dollars went, it makes me appreciate how comfortable I was growing up more and more. Always try to do right by your parents, kids. Unless there are bad circumstances in play. It’s a judgment call. But if you’re treated right growing up, treat your parents right, too.
My Chemical Romance never quite met the heights of the Black Parade era. Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys expanded Gerard Way’s narrative focus further, spawning a supporting miniseries of comic books that expanded the story presented in the album. But by 2010, despite pushing out another set of catchy singles, MCR was beginning to lose steam, and they broke up with little warning and no explanation in 2013, right as they were supposedly starting sessions for their fifth album. Way wrote a very long message about the band’s breakup, romanticizing it and implying that there would always be a time when someone would simply pull the plug, but it really did nothing to explain anything. Just as swiftly as they’d arrived on the scene, they were gone. And, though it’s only been three years, they’ve stayed gone. Way released a solo album and the other guys presumably did things less important than that. But the casket has stayed closed for My Chemical Romance.
And maybe it’ll stay that way. Maybe Gerard Way will continue to focus on a solo career and comic books (something that he is very good at, incidentally – his Spider-Verse issue was great, and Umbrella Academy is a classic series), and he’ll leave MCR in the past. Maybe they’ll open the casket back up, like the vampires they pretended to be early on, and bring the band back to the realm of the living for a reunion tour, or reunion album. But for now, My Chemical Romance is dead, and that’s a far better fate than what has befallen their emo brethren – The Used and Taking Back Sunday are still around, did you know that? They still make albums. That’s as distressing as hearing that Good Charlotte and Bowling for Soup still exist, which they both do.
Death may not be what the fans wanted, but it’s much better, I think, than staying alive to play at carnivals for ten years past your expiration date.