Apple Music Special – The Black Parade, by My Chemical Romance

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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.

Mhm.

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.

Anyway.

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.

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DVD Special – Box Car Racer DVD, by Box Car Racer

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Released November 5, 2002

Main feature 15 min, 54 sec

I’m not going to lie to you – this is a filler post because I had nothing else ready for Saturday. The posting schedule has been kicking my ass, because I started this blog when I went on campus for class once a week, not four times a week. I’ve thought about cutting down to three posts during the regular week while keeping the Specials intact, but I’ve been pushing that idea to the backburner now that the blog’s getting higher amounts of regular traffic. Yeah, I’m all about those view counts. Not that I’m making anything off of this anyway.

So here we are, talking about Box Car Racer. No, not the album that I just linked to as an incredibly cheap plug – Box Car Racer DVD, as the spine of the case says.

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First off, really? Box Car Racer DVD? Couldn’t come up with a better name, Tommy boy? Jesus.

Box Car Racer DVD saw its release in the tail end of 2002, combining the band’s two music videos with a brief feature discussing the purpose of the band and showing behind-the-scenes footage from both music videos and interviews intercut with footage of the band’s first show, performed before any music had been released from the project. The DVD, alongside the band’s only studio album, essentially functions as the total package of Box Car Racer – if you bought both of these, you have everything the band has ever done. So that’s cool, I guess.

Except for the fact that the DVD’s entire contents combined are shorter than an episode of Friends. Seriously. The main feature is about 16 minutes, “I Feel So” is three and a half, and “There Is” is three. That’s just under 23 minutes, which is pretty much how long an average episode of Friends is. Imagine buying a single episode of Friends on DVD for like fifteen dollars. Better make sure it’s a damn good episode.

But this is what happened in the pre-YouTube era. Where were they going to put their music videos up for their fans to see on-demand? Their website? How? Quicktime? No, DVD compilations were the way to go. Audioslave did the same thing, despite having been a band for like ten minutes in 2002. At least BCR was courteous enough to put together a (self-important, overly pretentious at times) featurette for the DVD to make it at least a little worthwhile.

But it’s still not, so that’s that. I’m glad I bought it for like a dollar on Amazon, because it’s not worth any more than that. And I’m glad YouTube exists so that stupid releases like this don’t have to happen any more.

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Bye Bye Bayou, by LCD Soundsystem

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Released November 7, 2009

7 min, 9 sec

Ugh.

You know what?  I don’t even want to bother.

It’s an LCD Soundsystem song but it’s actually an Alan Vega song.  There are some cool audio effects about two minutes in that coincide with the “black helicopters” line, and some vocal effects that LCD Soundsystem like to employ.  That’s it.  Also, this is the end of the “B” albums.

There’ll be a real post on the next album on the list later today.

Bye Bye Babylon, by CryoShell

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Released July 27, 2009

3 min, 41 sec

(Bonus post because it’s a short one; apologies for how late it is.)

“Bye Bye Babylon” is notable more for what it signaled than the song itself.

The song is good – more of CryoShell’s signature hard rock sound mixed with synthesized orchestral strings. The song was written and released to promote the fourth BIONICLE movie, The Legend Reborn, the first BIONICLE film in four years, following 2005’s Web of Shadows. The Legend Reborn is the only film to be part of the mostly-separate 2009-2010 story of BIONICLE, following the end of the story that had been running since 2001. I haven’t watched it, as I had mostly tuned out of BIONICLE by the time that film came out, and I wasn’t really pulled in by the other three films. I’ve heard it’s alright, at least.

More importantly, however, “Bye Bye Babylon” was CryoShell’s iTunes debut, marking the beginning of a shift in focus for the band, away from simply being “The BIONICLE band” as they had been known before. Though it would be several months before the group followed up, “Bye Bye Babylon” was a foot in the door, and would see a re-release twice in 2010 – once as part of the Creeping in My Soul EP in January (that acted as a teaser for CryoShell later that year), and, of course, as part of CryoShell. The version of the track on those two albums features an extended guitar solo as part of its bridge, but is otherwise unchanged.

“Bye Bye Babylon” acted as a sort of canary release, testing the waters for a future set of iTunes releases that eventually came at the end of 2009 with “Creeping in My Soul,” the EP of the same name in January, and CryoShell by the end of the year. With “Bye Bye Babylon,” CryoShell had finally begun to establish itself as a legitimate band, branching out from being attached to LEGO.

The Buried Sessions, by Skylar Grey

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Released January 17, 2012

12 min, 3 sec

The Buried Sessions always makes me laugh when I think about it too much, because it’s a b-sides EP for an album that hadn’t come out yet, and that wouldn’t come out for over a year. In many ways, it is the definition of a stopgap album, as Skylar Grey’s resurgence had essentially come to a halt by the end of 2011, with just two singles and no word on an album. Granted, the tracks she’d been featured on were hits – “Coming Home” and “Words I Never Said” – and she, of course, wrote “Love the Way You Lie,” which earned her a Grammy and more recognition than she’d ever had as Skylar Grey. But none of those things are a record, and records are what an artist needs to be relevant in the music industry. She could only trade on her features for so long.

Not that she’d ever intended to just be a featured artist for the rest of her career, of course; she wouldn’t have abandoned Holly Brook for something as low-aiming as that. But the album wasn’t coming together as well or as quickly as it should have, and status updates all throughout 2012 didn’t point to a very stable recording process. The album finally came out in April 2013; we’ll talk about that one in about a month or two.

So, Skylar Grey needed to keep her name in the public eye. The way she went about it, at least, was interesting and novel – The Buried Sessions, as you might have noticed from the track list, consists of the original Skylar Grey tracks that led to each of her three big hits in 2010 – a piano-led version of “Love the Way You Lie,” featuring the exact same lyrics as the Rihanna version, and full versions of the hooks that served as the backbones for “Coming Home” and “Words I Never Said.” “Lie”’s “Pt. III” addendum is a play on the fact that two versions of the song, one with Eminem and one without, were released with Rihanna; “Coming Home”’s “Pt. II” addendum is along the same lines. I don’t know why “Words” has a shortened title and no number attached to it; maybe she felt the need to differentiate it in another way.

These are good songs, very low on production, and quite unlike what would eventually become Don’t Look Down in 2013. “Love the Way You Lie” is noted to be the original demo Grey recorded and sent to Rihanna, and it had been circulating for a while before this release. The original is, of course, incredibly heavy on pop production; Grey’s recording strips out all of that, reducing the song to its incredibly pessimistic core. Eminem’s verses shift the song’s meaning a bit, implying that the relationship described has some sort of redeeming quality; without him, the song is fully negative, forcing the listener to confront Grey’s lyrics and the situation she describes. It’s a good, powerful rendition of the song, even if I was completely sick of it by the time this EP came out.

“Coming Home” has a different feel to it when Grey’s original verses are inserted, as opposed to too many verses of Diddy. However, I can see why the song was adapted only from its chorus; the verses are hilariously generic, and it really feels like Grey’s not actually singing about anything. At least her delivery is superb – her voice is one of her best traits, really.

“Words,” however, comes off fantastic. “Words I Never Said” is very much defined by Lupe Fiasco’s verses, where he launches a vicious attack on American politics and culture, Grey’s hook becoming a political statement in its own right, a call for the American public to speak up. By contrast, “Words” is a completely different song, focusing far more inwards than Fiasco’s music, projecting feelings of having to combat disappointment, and speaking up over it. At the same time, it also feels kind of directionless; the feeling this song and “Coming Home” put forward is that they wouldn’t have worked as full songs, but both had components that could help prop up a different song and make that one a hit instead, which is exactly what happened.

The Buried Sessions works well for what it is – an album to let Skylar Grey fans know that she was still active, still working on her re-debut album, and that there was still something to look forward to. Having it simply be a demo and two rejects, however, may not have been the best idea, and I remember losing hope later in the year, especially considering there isn’t any “new” music on this EP. However, Grey managed to deliver with Don’t Look Down, so I think The Buried Sessions gets a pass in that regard.

A Bunch of Stuff, by LCD Soundsystem

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Released September 18, 2007

50 min, 52 sec

Ugh.

So, one of the main frustrations with the format of iTunes, A to Z is that the alphabetical list will often not allow me the opportunity to properly establish how I feel about a given artist. Take Bruce Springsteen, for example – in my very first post on Springsteen, I had to shit on him for releasing a lazy piece of garbage for Record Store Day, as opposed to talking about how he is one of my favorite artists of all time. The same thing happened with LCD Soundsystem – I had to turn the post about “All My Friends” into a discussion on how I’m an obsessive piece of hipster trash and need to own everything a band has put out in some form or another.

My thoughts on LCD Soundsystem will not be coming around until at least LCD Soundsystem, and L is a long, long way away from B. So, instead, we’re here with A Bunch of Stuff, an album that I absolutely don’t fucking care about, and I’ve got to find a way to make an entire post that is, at least, tangentially related to it.

Fun writing prompt.

One of the things that infuriates me about LCD Soundsystem is their insistence on releasing extra music across too many worthless albums, often mixing up the track lists so that the same track will appear on three different releases alongside different tracks, so you’re stuck buying literally everything the band shits out if you want something complete.

A Bunch of Stuff is a digital-only EP that exists only in the U.S. market because LCD Soundsystem felt no need to release the single for “Someone Great,” which contains every track on this EP except for the Franz Ferdinand cover, in the U.S., instead opting to release it literally everywhere else. At least this release invalidates the “Someone Great” single because A Bunch of Stuff has the Franz Ferdinand cover as an exclusive.

Wait, what’s that? The Franz Ferdinand cover is already on the “All My Friends” single?

Who would have fucking guessed?

This is the kind of shit I’m talking about. What’s the fucking point of having all these worthless EPs clogging up your discography? LCD Soundsystem isn’t even on a major label – James Murphy, the band’s frontman, runs the fucking label they’re on. DFA operates in every major market in the world; LCD Soundsystem doesn’t have to bother with international label bullshit, but they still do the same garbage that major labels do. Unbelievable.

There’s even a release specifically titled Confuse the Marketplace, which is a 12” single featuring all of 45:33‘s b-sides, which are already available in the U.S. on the 45:33 CD. Why is this happening?

Not to mention the fact that A Bunch of Stuff is just a bunch of shitty remixes.

Maybe that’s an unfair assessment – LCD Soundsystem sits in a genre where remixes are a huge part of a band’s marketability, and having a thousand versions of one song is a great way to appeal to every club in the entire world. That’s the point of these remixes.

It doesn’t really save them from being boring, overly long remixes, but then again, these aren’t songs you sit down and listen to in order to review for a blog. You listen to them in the club when you’re dry-humping someone you’ve never met before. So, I guess, in that case, mission accomplished. 10/10, would grind on a stranger again.

I think I may just have a thing against remixes. Particularly in the rock genre, they feel like low-effort cash grabs, something a band slaps together because they want a stopgap album to stay in the public view, maybe in some sort of nice limited edition package to swindle more money out of their adoring fans. There are very few remix albums that I can say are consistently high-quality – likely countable on one hand.

A Bunch of Stuff is not on that list.

For me, the EP’s only true redeeming quality is the Franz Ferdinand cover of “All My Friends.” What happens when you take a fantastic song and get a good band to cover it? Shockingly, it turns into a great cover. Man, that’s a real head-scratcher. Maybe they should’ve done this instead of having five tracks all featuring the same shitty Moog drum sample under the studio versions of the songs.

Alright, I’m getting way too snippy. A Bunch of Stuff is woefully unessential, like most of LCD Soundsystem’s catalogue outside of their studio and live records, which is a huge shame, because this band is fantastic in every other aspect.

Too bad they broke up.

Bullet in a Bible, by Green Day

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Released November 15, 2005

64 min, 57 sec

Bullet in a Bible, despite its short length, is an album that perfectly captures the atmosphere of a Green Day concert. Though the audio is heavily edited, cutting out significant portions of crowd participation and extended instrumental sections, the album retains the incredibly rowdy, enthusiastic crowd, making sure that there is always the low hum of the crowd throughout the song, though this low hum frequently explodes into over 65,000 people chanting in unison at the band, often being led by Billie Joe Armstrong in these chants. As much as the band is in top form, the crowd makes sure to meet them at every opportunity.

And make no mistake – this is most definitely Green Day at the height of their popularity, and thus, the height of their live existence. For the first time, Green Day brought an expanded band along for the ride with them, introducing multi-instrumentalists Jason Freese and Ronnie Blake and third guitarist Mike Pelino alongside guitarist Jason White (held over from the Warning: tour; he would finally become an official member of the band for the ¡Uno!/¡Dos!/¡Tre! trilogy in 2012), allowing for the group to expand their live musical palate. These extra musicians were put to good use on one of the album’s many highlights in “King for a Day,” which eventually transitions into a rousing rendition of “Shout” before returning to the original song for its conclusion.

That brings me to the setlist – fourteen tracks is too short for a live album, but the album picks its fourteen well. Following a heavy reliance on American Idiot, being the most recent studio album at the time, Green Day dives into their greatest hits for the next five tracks, pulling out two tracks from Dookie, one from Insomniac, and another two from nimrod. before returning to American Idiot‘s major hit “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” a brief detour to Warning: in “Minority,” an outing of megahit “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” from American Idiot, and traditional closing track “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” in an electric rendition of the originally-acoustic song. Six other tracks were played during the band’s two nights at Milton Keynes, presumably cut for length and to avoid having to secure rights for the two covers included in the set.

The album is sourced from two shows at Milton Keynes National Bowl, which featured a total attendance of 130,000 people, by far the largest two crowds the band had ever played for, which played into the crowd’s enormous reactions on the album. Armstrong definitely panders to the British crowd in order to get stronger reactions, frequently denouncing American policies and culture during the initial run of American Idiot tracks, especially during the album’s title track. The band is absolutely on fire throughout the entire performance – Armstrong’s vocals are sharp, the band is tightly woven instrumentally, and the core trio of Armstrong, Dirnt, and Cool play off each other incredibly well, owing to their, at that point, sixteen-year history as a band.

There are a lot of great moments – the crowd singing lines from “Basket Case” completely out of sync, Armstrong acting completely in-character for “St. Jimmy,” Armstrong groping himself repeatedly during “Hitchin’ a Ride,” the entirety of “King for a Day,” the raw emotion pouring out of the entire band for “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” particularly from Armstrong, who can be seen crying during the guitar solo, and the intimacy of “Good Riddance,” just Armstrong performing the song, alone, to 65,000 of his closest friends at that moment, the entire crowd shouting every word right back to him. Bullet in a Bible really drives home the point that Green Day is meant to exist as a live band, where they can take their music and fire it up with everything they’ve got.

There’s a lot to say, and a lot that has been said, about the musical merit of Green Day, particularly with a potential Hall of Fame induction on the horizon. However, one thing that can never be faulted is their ability as a live band, and Bullet in a Bible is, by far, the best document of that.