The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance
A single G note on the piano can filter out all the emos in a ten meter radius. The opening to the iconic My Chemical Romance track, “Welcome to the Black Parade” begins with an eleven note riff that that is so recognizable, those who don’t even like the band can name what it’s from. My Chemical Romance was an emo/punk band formed in 2001, and ended in March of 2013. Composed of frontman Gerard Way, his little brother Mikey Way, Frank Iero and Ray Toro, the group created an entirely new wave of wildly creative, dirty, genius, and dangerous emo music new to the punk scene. It’s 2016 and MCR still makes me sad a little bit.
The band’s third studio album hit stores in 2006. The album is quite different from their two previous, straying from their emo, theatrical label to an almost punk opera sound to match the album’s story. The Black Parade itself is a concept album. The basic plot goes through a timeline of our protagonist, The Patient’s death and his journey through the afterlife, with the exception of the last track, Famous Last Words. They have the liberty to adopt their own style, ideas, and stage presence to fit the story. With MCR’s turn of sound and story from previous works, combined with their unique style of the band itself, they have created something completely visionary and exclusive that has never before surfaced on the emo scene.
All their music, but especially The Black Parade, seems to be inspired by Gerard’s impressive level of ingenuity along with the deterioration of his mental health. Way is a natural poet and possesses a gift with words he never wants to admit. Capitalizing off his spiraling mental state, he was able to create The Black Parade, which seems to me, a personified story of his mindset. Gerard has fought alcoholism and a cocaine addiction through the first three albums, and during the recording, God, this boy is fighting to stay sober. His troubled past is alluded to in The Patient’s journey through death.
The beginning track, ironically titled The End., follows the last moments of The Patient’s life with an EKG setting the tempo. “Now come one, come all, to this tragic affair… If you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see/You can find out firsthand what it’s like to be me/so gather round piggies and kiss this goodbye/I’d encourage your smiles I’ll expect you won’t cry!” The EKG fades into background noise and starts into a heavy, ominous riff. The song doesn’t last for much longer, the next verse being just as short. It ends with a slow, heavy drum beat in a minor key and incoherent, “Get me the hell out of here!/Save me!”
The End. transitions seamlessly from blips of an EKG to a flat line and chorus of harmonized, screaming, “yeah!”s. Dead! Is the second track on the album, and one of the most important to the story. Ray Toro rips into the intro, and the mood shifts drastically from a dreary and solemn to fast-paced and inappropriately ecstatic. A crowd of death mocks from behind. They’re smug. The Patient has died, and is being lead into the afterlife. We are still left in the dark as to what it actually is. The chorus “Have you heard the news that you’re dead?/No one ever had much nice to say/I think they never liked you anyway.” And “If life ain’t just a joke/then why am I laughing?/If life ain’t just a joke/then why am I dead?/” Dead! Is a track that is right up Way’s alley, with an obsession with immortality and lack thereof ever since he was young. Dead! Has an air of celebration from the mob of death when The Patient finds out he has died. The entire track is condescending and scornful, telling The Patient deserves what’s coming for him: “I’ll be wondering/did you get what you deserve?/The ending of your life/” And “Tongue-tied and oh so squeamish/You never fell in love/Did you get what you deserve?” This directly mirrors Way’s view on death.
The next two tracks on the album, This is How I Disappear and The Sharpest Lives are ones that can only be played back to back. “Power-duo tracks”, as NME Reviews calls them. They’re a flashback of sorts from The Patient’s life. The character’s life, Way says, was wildly underwhelming, with the exception of the amount of sex and drugs he was involved in. The two tracks hold a chilling tone with destructive, rebellious, ominous lyrics, and Gerard beats the harmony-horse to death, but does it well.
The Sharpest Lives gives way to the ultimate emo anthem, Welcome to the Black Parade. For no particular reason, this is the most iconic My Chemical Romance track ever recorded. If anything, the song is not as impressive instrumentally, or even lyrically, compared to the other tracks on the album. This is the breakthrough for The Patient, the climax of the album, when he relives the most prominent memory he had before he ultimately enters hell. The music video helps to tell the story better than anything else. The song tells the story of when The Patient’s father took him to see a marching band as a child, his most precious memory. The chorus, because I’m not great at lyric interpretation, seem to fall on the wayside of the story. Although some of the most important lines to me personally, the chorus doesn’t seem to follow the story very well. We don’t know much about The Patient; only that he is one sour son of a b****. The lyrics, especially the chorus, don’t seem to fit him well, but it is loud and hopeful and promising, paralleling the tone in the rest of the album.
The album contains eight more tracks. Ones like House of Wolves, Mama, and Teenagers are similar to Sharpest Lives, but Cancer, Sleep, and Disenchanted are the more or less power-ballads on the album. Cancer and Sleep are creepy and brooding and ominous and elusive to self-destruction, appropriate to the album’s story, but Disenchanted is surprisingly bittersweet. It’s a song about, Gerard says, “living in the dream and waking up one day inside that dream and realizing it is ugly and dead.” The lyrics are regretful, angry, and terribly dissatisfied and unfinished. There’s so much more that needed to be said in this song, but Gerard cannot say any more about it. The end of the track came, and the story couldn’t be milked any longer.
Following Disenchanted comes the most straight-forward message in any MCR song recorded. Famous Last Words was written for his little brother Mikey whose anxiety was so hindering at the time he could barely speak when spoken to. The band ended up at what was named a haunted hotel to stay the night because there was no other place around, and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Mikey. At twenty-nine years old, Mikey couldn’t sleep in a room alone. He spent the night in Gerard’s bed, shaking and sobbing and speechless and absolutely terrified. Mikey decided to take a break from the band to try to manage his anxiety once and for all, and this song was Gerard’s response. This track is right up there with Welcome to the Black Parade in terms of popularity and heaviness, but is also a mantra for those who are suicidal and hopeless, when they think they can’t go on any longer. “I am not afraid to keep on living/I am not afraid to walk this word alone” has been an inspiration for millions ten years counting. The song is loud and fast and demanding and proud, keeping in style with Gerard’s personality and the rest of the album. Gerard has dealt with a hellish mental illness throughout the twelve years the band was together, and wrote the track just as much for him as he did for Mikey and the fanbase, reminding him that he can make it, day by day.
The Black Parade is a truly iconic album that emos and those unfamiliar with the punk scene alike are aware of. Even if you don’t like My Chemical Romance, there’s a pretty solid chance you’ve heard Welcome to the Black Parade at least once. Gerard is brilliant and dirty and honest and hopeful, and even when I grow out of this emo phase, I’m sure MCR will have a special place in my heart.