The one constant in the career arc of My Chemical Romance has been reinvention. From each record’s sound to the wardrobe used on stage for each album cycle, MCR has never been strangers to pushing the boundaries of what is expected of them and their music. On Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, My Chemical Romance would reinvent themselves for the fourth time and deliver their boldest artistic statement to date. Having scrapped a full album’s worth of material (that would later be known as Conventional Weapons) in-between recording The Black Parade and this album, fans and critics alike were looking forward to seeing how Gerard Way, Frank Iero, Mikey Way, and Ray Toro would come back into the limelight after the massively successful third record. Danger Days ranges from thrilling sing-a-long anthems to power-pop and their trademark take on punk/emo rock alike. With so much riding on this career-defining record, how would everyone react to the material that would come through the speakers?
The basic premise of the concept record was set in a post-apocalyptic California in 2019 through the lens of the Killjoys (a rogue group) fighting against the evil corporation Better Living Industries. The comic book-stylized music video of “Na Na Na” introduced the group of heroes to the world as they sought to take down anyone who would stand in their way. The music itself on the lead single re-captured the imagination of their rabid fan-base and gave them a reason to sing along to the track that sounds like it was ripped directly from a TV show theme song in this post-apocalyptic future. The song is based on the criticism of consumerist culture and offers a glimpse into the way we view music and culture itself.
My personal favorite from the album comes in the form of “Bulletproof Heart,” which features a brilliant mix of vibrant guitar rock, glam-tinged vocal prowess from Gerard Way, to make for an impressive deep cut. Way sways with ease from the brief introductory verse to sing confidently, “I got a bulletproof heart / You got a hollow-point smile / Me and your runaway scars / Got a photograph dream on the getaway mile / Let’s blow a hole in this town / And do our talking with a laser beam / Gunning out of this place in a bullet’s embrace / Then we’ll do it again.” The solid and well thought out lyrics have always been a strong suit of this band, and nothing is lost in that process on this fourth album. The way the band is able to change up their approach to rallying around their confident front-man is nothing short of remarkable on this particular song.
”Sing” was the second single released from the band and became arguably their most commercially appealing and accessible song to date. From several prominent spots on TV commercials as “hype music” to near Top-40 placement, it seemed like this song was being played everywhere. The song is built around a great beat and piano-laced rhythm sections to build up to a massive sing-a-long chorus of, “Sing it for the boys, sing it for the girls / Every time that you lose it sing it for the world / Sing it from the heart, sing it till you’re nuts / Sing it out for the ones that’ll hate your guts / Sing it for the deaf, sing it for the blind / Sing about everyone that you left behind / Sing it for the world, sing it for the world.” Everything clicked perfectly into place for MCR on this perfectly crafted pop song.
”Planetary (GO!)” followed the brilliant single with a completely different approach to their songwriting. Whereas the majority of the band’s material forced their audience to mosh along or think about their lyrics, this track is a straight-up dance song. It features some synth elements, and the guitars by Toro and Iero only further accentuated each of the punchy verses. Gerard never releases his command of the track as he keeps up with his backing band’s frenetic pace.
”The Only Hope For Me Is You” is the closest the band gets to the darker, brooding rock of The Black Parade, yet the optimism shown in the chorus on this song prevents it from getting too gloomy. Way seemed to be speaking directly to his army of misplaced youths as he sang, “If there’s a place that I could be / Then I’d be another memory / Can I be the only hope for you? / Because you’re the only hope for me.” The improved pop elements that came from veteran producer Rob Cavallo made each note really stand apart, and the album never gets too bogged down with anything monotonous.
The sped-up guitars and dance elements appear again on “Party Poison” as Gerard Way channels his inner punk persona and gets the band to rally around his every lyric. The song seems like it perfectly marries the pop elements from the first half of the element, while still feeling as punk as anything the band has ever written. Way’s vocal delivery is as sneering as its ever been, and he prevents the track from feeling forced or even too polished.
Other deep cuts on the album that proved that MCR were on top of their game are the well thought guitar-laden bliss of “Save Yourself, I’ll Hold Them Back” and the psychedelic, Beatles’-esque, “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W.” On “Save Yourself, I’ll Hold Them Back” the band perfectly builds up to a melodic chorus and makes for another memorable track in the sequencing. On the latter track, the bass lines from Mikey Way are perfectly accentuated by the drums and each note hits its intended target. Toro mentioned in a few interviews that this song was loosely inspired by The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”
”Summertime” remains one of my all-time favorite MCR deep cuts as it rounds out the sound and vision that the band was going for on this album. It’s also one of the most unabashedly pop songs that My Chemical Romance has ever written, and Way’s vocal performance is top notch. One of the verses that continues to have a lasting impact is when Way sings vulnerably, “Terrified of what I’d be, as a kid from what I’ve seen / Every single day when people try and put the pieces back together / Just to smash them down / Turn my headphones up real loud / I don’t think I need them now / ‘Cause you stopped the noise.” For some reason these lyrical lines have stuck with me for quite some time on repeat listens.
”DESTROYA” follows the pop-based song with a tribal beat and some synth-infused sounds to make the track really take off. It was a fan-favorite in the sets during the Danger Days touring cycle as it made for a cathartic and interactive part of the band’s performance. “The Kids From Yesterday” follows this song, and was the last formal single released during the promotional period of this album. It’s one of the rare moments that MCR step outside of the story arc presented on the album and speak directly to their audience. Looking back at the opening lyrics of, “Well now this could be the last of all the rides we take / So hold on tight and don’t look back / We don’t care about the message or the rules they make / I’ll find you when the sun goes black,” feels even more ominous knowing that this would be one of the last singles ever released from the band.
”Vampire Money” is the last track on the album, and MCR said it was a “reaction to being asked to write a song for the Twilight movie.” As the band moved on from that commercial opportunity, it’s still kind of funny that they finished the album with this slab of in your face punk rock. It has a similar vibe as the Bob Dylan cover of “Desolation Row” from the Watchmen soundtrack, and some fans were clamoring for more of this stylistic choice based on the success of the cover song.
The legacy that surrounds the last studio album for My Chemical Romance only grows as we look back on the tenth anniversary of the record. From the not so subtle hints of their inevitable return in the “California 2019” references on the album to their fourth full-on reinvention of their sound, everything seemed to be extremely well thought out and organized in the most purposeful way. MCR tried to follow up this record with some additional material, but only “Fake Your Death” from their greatest hits compilation ever saw the light of day. The band members would each go on to release some noteworthy solo projects until they finally announced their reunion in October 2019. With a band made up of so many talented musicians, it seemed almost inevitable for them to each want to try their own path and solo careers as well. However, now that MCR has returned, we can only wait with bated breath for the next taste of music to be released by our fearless scene leaders.