“My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade” Music Review
It’s not often you see emo albums break into the mainstream, but The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance did just that back when it was released in 2006. With song titles like “Dead!”, “I Don’t Love You”, and “Cancer”, on the surface The Black Parade seems depressing and gloomy. While that is true to some extent, especially in the lyrics, the music is packed with energy and over-the-top in the best sense of that phrase.
Gerard Way, the singer who began the band after witnessing the horrible events of 9/11, sings loudly and has a certain twisted edge to his voice largely in part to the way he stresses the last syllable of certain words in his songs. The rest of the band plays just as loudly, especially the lead guitar player Ray Toro, who busts out into some wild solos every now and then. His guitar bits, among the other excellent contributions of the band, remind of the glory days of rock and roll back in the 70’s and 80’s, and that’s one of the main reasons I like The Black Parade. The band describes themselves as “violent, dangerous pop”, which apparently is a step ahead of the normal, crappy pop of nowadays.
I called the band “emo” at the beginning of the review, but Gerard Way hates that label and desperately tries to convince people that My Chemical Romance is not an emo band. Emo or not, there’s no arguing that The Black Parade is bursting with a dark, twisted style. The Black Parade is a concept album about a man dying of cancer and his reflection on his life. Looking through the CD booklet, it’s easy to find the cancer patient in the artwork, guided into the afterlife by the “Black Parade”, which represents his fondest living memory, one of seeing a marching band with his father. Not every song in The Black Parade contributes to the story in a very obvious way, but I suppose that’s why it’s only a “concept” album.
1. The End – A short little song that I actually like quite a bit. It starts off very acoustic but grows into a roar of music resembling Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh?” that drowns out Gerard Way’s singing. You have to listen to “Dead!” right after this though, or the song seems to cut off suddenly. Heck, even if you do listen to “Dead!” right afterwards it seems to cut off suddenly, but it is still worth the effort. On MP3 players there’s always a short little skip between each song, so listen to “The End”/”Dead!” on the CD itself if you can. That way the songs will flow together as nicely as possible.
2. Dead! – This song is amazing! Definitely one of the best on the album, and of the band in general. It sort of defines the band, too. It’s got negativity all throughout the lyrics, but the energy and poppy sound to it don’t make you focus on that aspect. Towards the end the song changes into a chorus of “la la la la la”‘s, and memories of “The End” surface as Gerard sings something barely audible from beneath the chanting and instruments. My only gripe of “Dead!” is how when I skip to that song on the CD, it doesn’t seem to play the first note of the guitar’s little opening part. It sounds like we’ve missed something… however, on Windows Media Player, the entire guitar part plays. So… I guess there really isn’t a problem.
3. This is How I Disappear – A bit of a letdown after the awesomeness of “Dead!”, but this is a good song nonetheless. My favorite part is the heavy guitar that plays when the rest of the band cuts out partway through the song.
4. The Sharpest Lives – This song gets the album back on track, with some nonsensical emo lyrics, such as In love with all of these vampires and Drop the dagger and lather the blood in your hands, Romeo. Still, it all rhymes well and the strong melody makes it a very nice track.
5. Welcome to the Black Parade – A great, epic piece that takes itself seriously. Starting off unlike anything else so far on the album with quiet piano and lyrics that seem to convey… love!? There are two parts to “Welcome to the Black Parade” – the beautiful, memorable tune about the cancer patient’s memories of his father and the marching band, and then the main poppy part. This song was a single, after all, and it had to have its pop hook in there somewhere. Fortunately, it doesn’t soil the opening melody, and instead sounds like a great rock anthem from the 80’s. That’s a compliment.
6. I Don’t Love You – For the first 30 seconds, this seriously sounds like Christian rock. The airy piano and guitar playing major chords is a nice break from the dark sounding, minor chords we’re used to hearing from the band, but honestly I like the dark sound of the band better, so “I Don’t Love You” doesn’t really stack up all that well with the other songs on the album, in my opinion.
7. House of Wolves – This starts off well with instrumental work that sounds like an ambulance in a way, which actually resembles one line of the lyrics: you play ring around the ambulance like you never gave a care. The hook is a bit all over the place, making it less memorable than say, “Dead!” or “Welcome to the Black Parade”, but once you do remember it, it’s hard not to want to sing along with it.
8. Cancer – A YouTube karaoke favorite! The deep topic of this song – the patient knowing he’s going to die any day of cancer, is handled well with almost all the instrumentation consisting of piano.
9. Mama – Probably the most dark and offensive song on the album. It’s also the craziest. Sounding at times like an Italian folk song, other times like “The Trial” by Pink Floyd (it’s not just me making connections to Pink Floyd – Gerard Way himself credited that band as a major influence on My Chemical Romance), and still other times like the same old “dangerous, violent pop” My Chemical Romance is known for, the unpredictability of the piece is one of it’s strong points. However, I think the chorus doesn’t really fit with the verses, which are simple and sinister-sounding. The chorus isn’t bad, it just sounds like it should be in another, more poppier song. The song is about a soldier laying wounded and expecting to die, while thoughts of his mama and his imminent journey to Hell swirl through his mind. My guess is that this song is a flashback to a moment in the patient’s past, which would mean that he didn’t actually end up dying on the battlefield. Liza Minnelli does some guest vocal work on this song… for about 10 seconds. I had never heard of her before this, and she doesn’t impact the song enough to make me remember her even now. Not that she does a bad job – I’m just saying her part is small.
10. Sleep – Supposedly Gerard Way wrote this song after a night terror in which he felt he was being strangled and couldn’t move. That’s what explains the weird opening to this otherwise excellent song. A voice that sounds like it’s coming from a radio cuts in and out, telling us about “these terrors” and how “it feels like somebody was gripping my throat”. After all that ends, the main song begins quietly and leads up to a great chorus that for some reason reminds me of “Learn to Crawl” by Black Lab. I think it’s because both songs hold a certain word for an extended period of time during the chorus, though now that I think about it, the two songs really don’t sound that much alike. Either way, “Sleep” is very good.
11. Teenagers – A very catchy and fun song with some surprisingly dark lyrics: but if you’re trampled and hurt / what you’ve got under your shirt / will make them pay for the things that they did. I assume that refers to a gun, which would suggest that teenagers should shoot down the people they don’t like. Oh boy. However, this is actually one of the best songs on the album, and one of the big reasons why I wanted to buy the explicit version of the album – a certain swear word is repeated often in the chrous, and when it gets edited out, it kind of messes up the tuneful flow… or at least I think so. Not that I really support the swearing… I just like hearing the melody uninterrupted.
12. Disenchanted – I don’t really like this song to tell you the truth. It’s meaning is a bit confusing to me as well… I’ve read several interpretations saying that it might be the patient looking back at his life, particularly in the high school years; a personal message from the band to its fans: if I’m so wrong / how can you listen all night long?; or maybe even the patient’s father expressing disappointment in his son’s woe-is-me attitude. Not everyone will agree with me, but I thought “Disenchanted” was one of the weaker tracks on the album.
13. Famous Last Words – Like “Disenchanted”, the lyrics to this song are open to interpretation. Is the patient dying? Is he saying good-bye to his wife? Is he being forgiven and taken into heaven? Whatever it is, this song isn’t bad and it’s actually kind of memorable. Well, not as much as some of the other songs on the album, but “Famous Last Words” finishes up the story of the cancer patient and the Black Parade in a serviceable manner.
14. Blood – Hold on a minute, the album isn’t over yet! About 1 minute and 30 seconds into this hidden track a piano can be heard and soon enough Gerard starts singing a weird little tune that sounds like it’s from the 1920’s. The lyrics are talking about the patient again, this time about the doctors and nurses that take his blood. It’s short, but it’s funny and not altogether that bad. My favorite part is when all the backup singers join Gerard in gasping out one loud profanity…. not to be mentioned here. It’s hard not to laugh at how over-the-top that moment, and the rest of the song, is.