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Grandiose in its vision and self-assurance, October 23rd marked the tenth anniversary of The Black Parade: My Chemical Romance’s most accomplished and compelling album.
By Stephen Cage
Earlier this summer, My Chemical Romance released a short video through their website and social media simply titled ‘MCRX’. Running at 34 seconds, the teaser revealed little. Accompanied by the opening bars of Welcome to the Black Parade, a white flag, adorned with the band’s insignia, ripples mournfully, before coyly fading to reveal the message ‘9/23/16’. Naturally, speculation arose between fans and critics who assumed the video alluded to the group’s reformation prior to the anniversary of their seminal third album. Some predicted new material, whilst others put their cards on a world-tour.
Such hopes were in vain. Despite expectations, suspense merely amounted to a re-release titled for the occasion The Black Parade/Living With Ghosts, complete with obligatory rough-mixes and live demos. In fervour typical of their devotees, distraught fans lambasted My Chemical Romance for the ‘hoax’, as Twitter erupted in cries of betrayal and disappointment. The group released a quiet, unapologetic statement and everything promptly settled down.
The brief furore revealed how precious My Chemical Romance remain to their fanbase, yet also indicated the bygone significance of the rock band, which has all but diminished in 2016. In the climate of contemporary rock music, few albums by modern bands have since evoked such a polarising reaction as The Black Parade and it’s difficult to imagine a rock opera – gothic, theatrical, almost hammy – garnering comparative attention today as it did upon its release in 2006.
Partly, this is because rock music has become a somewhat niche interest. Like any medium – be that fashion, film or television – trends must expire. Everything is transient. As rock loses capital, artists such as Kendrick and Beyonce now assert where the hands have come to – continually pushing the envelope through cerebral, poignant lyrics and eschewing formal genre to create some of this year’s most thrilling music.
Regardless of the disappointment which was The Life of Pablo, its sensational release demonstrated that the spectacle of provocation constitutes ‘art’ much the same as an album, a film or a painting. Though aesthetically and musically dissimilar, The Black Parade shares a sense of earnestness and bravado comparable to the publicity performances of Kanye’s latest record. Both albums stand as a grand gesture to audiences deprived of emotional investment in contemporary music. Clearly, its commodification in recent years – through instant streaming, artist curated playlists, Apple recommendations, Vevo et al – has resulted in the loss of a certain tangibility in how we currently consume music. This privilege is fantastically convenient, but the extent of gentrification within the industry is surely stifling to the idiosyncratic voices which produce truly bizarre or eclectic work.
The release of …Like Clockwork by Queens of the Stone Age in 2013 saw a return to grace for the contemporary rock album, unmarred by cynical reception and met by swathes of critics all too keen to exhort the reputation of Mojave ‘cool’ which the record imbues. It is undoubtedly a compelling listen, featuring a clear narrative arc, bold aesthetic and a genuine sense of craftsmanship. Consequently, …Like Clockwork is an experience rather than a string of singles; taught, balanced and ‘grown’. In many respects, it is similar to The Black Parade.
For some however, it seems too tough to confess an honest liking for My Chemical Romance. Despite acclaim and fan adoration, the band have drawn mockery through the years for their emotionally wrought pop-punk and ‘emo’ style – notably from a press who seem to believe that some genres are intrinsically better, or ‘deeper’ than others. The band’s blend of outsider teenage anthems, coupled with the yearning, melodramatic vocal performances of Gerard Way (more Nilsson-esque than the whine of Matt Bellamy) either confirmed one’s belief in the group, or exacerbated a petty loathing from their detractors which the band have never quite shaken off. Regardless, artists of a certain calibre almost always provoke stark division of opinion. My Chemical Romance are often spoken of with a tinge of irony, which is a great shame considering the authenticity and complete sincerity of a band which, in 2006, were operating at the peak of their game.
In 2014, Gerard Way broke his spell of silence by releasing Hesitant Alien, a Bowie-infused solo-album channeling 70s psychedelic pop, grunge and post-punk. The record never quite felt like a homage, but it’s far from an original effort with only a smattering of tracks reminiscent of the emotional range of The Black Parade. In Hesitant Alien, Way’s bratty, fever-pitch delivery is restrained – mixed deep behind a cacophony of guitar and distorted drums. Despite strong songwriting, something is amiss. His most mature statement yet, it’s the sound of an artist making a natural progression – satisfying and deliberate – away from his most evocative and affecting work.
Stephen is currently studying English and American Studies at the university of Graz, as an exchange student from MMU.