10 years ago My Chemical Romance rode the crest of a wave that, for a brief moment, brought a kind of post-hardcore rock music into the mainstream amid hordes of black eyeliner sporting teens, unimpressed ‘true’ metallers and, predictably enough, British tabloid scaremongering about the cult of ‘emo’, as they released their arguable masterpiece, The Black Parade.
Following a launch announcement event in August at London’s world-famous (and now sadly demolished) Hammersmith Palais that saw hundreds of black clad members of their fan club, the MCRmy, take part in a mock funeral procession, the New Jersey quintet’s third album hit record stores on 23rd October 2006 and I still vividly remember picking up my copy that Monday morning with a real sense of excitement about what was contained therein.
All the press before the release, and the lead single Welcome To The Black Parade, had suggested that things had changed for the band.
In terms of line up this was the first album recorded with Bob Bryar behind the drums (though he had been the bands live drummer for most of the touring around Three cheers For Sweet Revenge) but it was also clear that piano and keyboards we’re going to be a big part of things and James Dewees (aka Reggie and the Full Effect) was unofficially drafted in too.
Sonically though the single suggested the vicious, hardcore infused assault of Three Cheers and their debut, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, was gone – replaced with a kind of prog-ish conceptual feel of sharply produced stadium rock, albeit still with the punk edge of their earlier material.
This came with a certain amount of consternation from fans who’d been following the band since their early days and the usual charges of ‘selling out’ were brought and roundly repelled by the band who, despite what might have been on the single and what the new matching marching band outfits suggested, continued with their incendiary, life affirming live shows such as an outing at Reading Festival, facing off a barrage of projectiles from die-hard Slayer fans.
So it was in the midst of all that The Black Parade was released and seemed to instantly capture the wider imagine, outside of the more underground side of things, to create with a mix of punk, goth, glam and hard rock, what has felt like the last great surge for rock music rebellion.
But what of the album itself.
From the opening beeps of a heart monitor the whole thing has an undeniable concept feel echoing Ziggy Stardust, The Wall and others, though that concept is for the most part suitably vague. After the somewhat camp theatricality and bombast of intro track The End, Dead! blasts out the gates like a pop-punk/glam-rock assault building on the likes of Three Cheers’ big hit I’m Not Ok run through a filter of The Who’s Tommy.
From that point on the concept is present but never fully explained, having the feeling of the moments just before death when, supposedly, ones life flashes before ones eyes. Added to that though is the sense that, in many ways, this could be frontman Gerard Way’s story as the album followed a challenging period of rehab for him.
The next duo, This Is How I Disappear and The Sharpest Lives show the band haven’t lost any edge and, while sharper and more precisely produced, hark back to their past before Welcome To The Black Parade acts as something of a microcosm of the whole album with Queen like bombast standing alongside hyper speed punk guitars and gentle piano, all within five minutes.
The rest of album takes all of this and does more of the same charting a disjointed journey through the protagonists life, albeit with no real sense of trying to make a point, which I can’t help but feel maybe it should.
Highlights as the album goes on include Mama which has the feel of The Dresden Dolls, Panic! At The Disco and The Used going to war, as the album reaches its most potentially ridiculous point but what feels like exactly what the band was aiming for, as Liza Minnelli makes an appearance before we get some excellently stomping glam-punk on Teenagers.
The album’s only real mis-fire comes with the mawkish Cancer which if anything is too on the nose to be properly appreciated whether it was intending to be metaphorical or not.
Famous Last Words leaves the record on a powerful high, even if it feels the concept is all but forgotten, before hidden track Blood (that was to become something of an off-kilter fan favourite) brings it back in a strange way, rounding off an album that was arguably My Chemical Romance’s most free and artistic high point, away from the scene that spawned them but before worldwide media attention hyped them beyond all expectation.
In hindsight its hard not to see The Black Parade as the beginning of the end of My Chemical Romance, throughout the sprawling tour that followed they tried to balance things to please both their old fan base and the new but it never quite seemed to gel. As someone who happily falls between these two camps though, the live shows I witnessed in this period were fantastic, even if they lacked the straight forward power and presence of their earlier, smaller, tours.
While the follow-up tried to evoke a similar response it failed to live up to the challenge or the hype (though Danger Days still has some garage punk moments) making this album something of a special one-off.
The reaction to its 10th anniversary and the fact that it encouraged such devotion demonstrate the impact it had and, while the world of music has moved on, I can’t help but feel The Black Parade marks something of a moment in the final days before pop really became digital.