CD Review of The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance

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AThe Black Parade
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Released: 2006
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Forgive the use of first person, but I’m stepping out of Objective Music Critic mode (there’s no such thing, by the way) for a second. The buzz surrounding The Black Parade, the third album from Jersey Goths My Chemical Romance, was positively deafening. Everyone was falling over themselves to praise the album, comparing it to Queen and Pink Floyd. Read that again: Queen and Pink Floyd. The band that, two years ago, released a song (“I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”) that made me so angry that I’d shut off the radio and listen to silence instead of that grating little song. And now those same punks are drawing comparisons to Queen and Floyd? Bull, shit. Send me the album, I need to hear this for myself.

Hey, how about that. They were right.

While it’s debatable that the album is truly worthy of ‘Best of 2006’ honors (their ability as arrangers slightly outreaches their skill as songwriters), The Black Parade is light years beyond what I thought My Chemical Romance was capable of doing. For punk pop, this is pretty heady stuff.

The premise for the album (yes, there’s a concept, horror of horrors) revolves around The Patient, a young man, presumably around the same age as singer Gerard Way, who’s dying of cancer. This means, of course, that this is a depressed teenager’s dream record, with all sorts of songs about death, alienation, bitterness and those other emotions that teens think that only they can feel and understand. “The End.” brings comparisons to The Wall screaming out of the gate when the wave of sound kicks in and you’re waiting for the lyrics to “In the Flesh” to appear in the second verse. An even greater Wall tribute is “Mama,” which references not “Mother” (at least not musically, anyway) but “The Trial,” crossed with Green Day’s “Misery.” Monster props must be given for the decision to cast Liza Minnelli as the mother in question. The Pink Floyd comparisons pretty much begin and end there, and that’s actually a good thing, since they would lose themselves had they explored it further.

“Dead” is as ambitious as the album’s monster title track (need we discuss that one? You’ve heard it a million times by now, right?), a bouncy rocker that’s stuffed to the gills with harmony vocals, horns, whistles and a half-speed la-la-la finale. “Teenagers” is undoubtedly going to be the highlight of their live set, with a chorus of “They said all teenagers scare the living shit out of me / They could care less, as long as someone’ll bleed / So darken your clothes, or strike a violent pose / Maybe they’ll leave you alone, but not me.” And dig that solo in the Stray Cats-gone-rabid “House of Wolves.” I thought these punk pop kids didn’t know how to do solos! Sweet.

However, before I sound like I’ve completely taken the MCR Kool-Aid, one issue must be addressed: singer Way (lose the blonde hair, dude, it’s not working) and his tendency to overdo it. This isn’t in regard to his singing (though that happens from time to time as well) but the way he forces the melodies to go in directions that are, frankly, counterproductive. “Cancer” has this effortless, climbing melody, and Way, for God knows what reason, sings a vocal that fights against the chords instead of working with them. Also – and the MCR Army will surely kill me for this – Way’s range as a singer cannot keep up with the scope of the band’s musical ideas. He’s got a way with a word, but it would be curious to hear what these songs would sound like if Chester Bennington handled lead vocals instead. Bennington has the exact opposite problem of Way: his voice is actually lovely (when he’s not shrieking like a banshee), but Linkin Park doesn’t give him anything worth singing. Think of the possibilities if the bands switched singers for a day.

So there you have it. I must officially recant any and all negative statements I have ever made about My Chemical Romance. Well, okay, not all of them – you’ll still never get me to like “I’m Not Okay” – but give credit where it’s due. The Black Parade is a nifty little Goth punk album. Now can someone please do something about that goddamn Blue October?

~David Medsker