With battered marching-band uniforms and make-up somewhere between Robert Smith’s goth and Alice Cooper’s post-modern ghoul, My Chemical Romance may not look like the voice of a generation. Yet their surging, swirling third full-length, The Black Parade, and its journey to the center of ennui and alienation, has tapped into an island of misfits who are shipwrecked in a land of diminishing opportunity and increasing avarice.
“I don’t know that I’m the kid in front,” guitarist Frank Iero says of his band’s expanding audience. “But I get what they’re feeling, because they come and feel like they belong, and they don’t feel like they belong anywhere else.”
The easy explanation for the band’s ascendance—the grandiose spectacle Parade debuted on the Billboard Top 200 at No. 2—is “they know how you feel.” After all, frontman Gerard Way tumbled into his own bottomless abyss of addiction, alienation and disorientation. But even the emotionally pummeling previous albums, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love and Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, didn’t foreshadow the power of what was coming. The Black Parade is a Queen-sized concept album with massive harmonies and ’70s sheen, told through “The Patient,” a character who recalls his disappointing life and the pain, loss and memory his death from cancer delivers.
With a platinum record, global tour and coterie of glossy magazine covers (whose headlines shriek “addiction,” “pain,” “depression” and even “death”), it’s a lot to shoulder when you’re just working the grand-rock conceptual caverns of David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Queen. And the post-medicated youth culture’s mouthpiece is, as Iero puts it, “five guys from Jersey?”
Enlisting producer Rob Cavallo—who notably produced Green Day’s rock opera American Idiot—the band moved en masse into a studio/mansion and emerged with a cohesive work that once again jams a needle into the core issues of a world gone numb from the pain of rejection and confusion. Bringing huge hooks, industrial intensity and a love of horror films and punk, MCR embrace big production without losing the immediacy of their core influences.
The Black Parade is a mortality play with a big emotional canvas. The lead single, “Welcome to the Black Parade,” brings a cheery, orchestral heft to The Patient’s metaphor for dying. Elsewhere, MCR tackles grief on “I Don’t Love You,” stretched across shimmering balladry. “Mama” explores anger about the futility of the inevitable with its surging guitars and stabbing rhythms. The stymied frustration of youth is drugged and rendered harmless on tracks such as “Sleep,” “Teenagers” and “Disenchanted”—all infused with jagged melodies that bring arena-rock aesthetics and Way’s quicksilver tenor.
“When people come up and tell us their stories, what they’re feeling is so fucking real to them,” says Iero. “It’s so dumb sometimes—not the way they feel—it’s their whole world crashing around them. Then they tell you our music got them through it. You hear that stuff and it’s hard to take in. But I know this is where I’m supposed to be. By doing this and being a fan and saving my own life, I’m doing it for other people, too.”
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