Let me preface this My Chemical Romance retrospective by stating that they are my favorite band, and I still hold The Black Parade as one of my top-5 favorite albums ever recorded. Throughout My Chemical Romance’s career, I was astounded by their rise to fame, and having seen them go as the first opening band on tour with The Used, to headlining stadiums by the time The Black Parade reached its heights, and I have marveled at the lore and theatrics surrounding my favorite artist.
The Black Parade was always an album that I kept coming back to when it first came out on October 24, 2006, and it still hits me hard every time I revisit this modern classic. Boiling down to the story of a cancer patient to the closing lyrics of “I am not afraid to keep on living,” I am bold enough to say that I found this album to be perfect from first listen, to now today as I re-listen to it again.
In a lot of ways, My Chemical Romance were on a collision course for making this classic album as front-man Gerard Way mentioned in several interviews that he was always planning on make this LP from the start of the incarnation of the band. In some ways, this album killed My Chemical Romance as they put every drop of blood and sweat into creating this record, and even the group themselves initially saw this as the closing chapter to the band. However, what came after the mammoth success of The Black Parade was a scrapped album (to later be released, called Conventional Weapons) to the reinvention of the artist as the Killjoys on Danger Days, to the last recording we were left with on an aborted project called “Fake Your Death.” These events only added to allure and mystique surrounding The Black Parade.
From the opening notes of a hospital machine quietly beeping to a flat-line on the introductory track “The End,” everything just seemed to be fully thought out and worked with the vision of this extraordinary group of musicians. When Way sings, “Now come one, come all to this tragic affair/Wipe off that makeup, what’s in is despair,” you are immediately transported to a world inside the five of the bandmates’ heads of a cancer patient living out their last moments. “Dead!” follows this track with an extremely up-tempo pace and rocks like The Ramones on steroids. On the chorus, Way sings, “Have you heard the news that you’re dead?/No one ever had much nice to say/I think they never liked you anyway/Oh, take me from the hospital bed/Wouldn’t it be grand? It ain’t exactly what you planned./And wouldn’t it be great if we were dead?” and it’s almost as if he is finding the silver lining in a life ending to a terrible disease such as cancer. The dual-guitar work of Ray Toro and Frank Iero is at its most potent on songs such as this one, and bassist Mikey Way keeps up with the duo as mentioned above’s frenetic pace. The underrated musician in all of this work of art is the drumming of Bob Bryar, who was let go shortly after the touring cycle wrapped on this record. Bryar’s fills and energy throughout the disc is nothing short of remarkable, and he adds an intricate layer to the story of the record.
The next song, is arguably one of the best songs MCR had ever written in “This Is How I Disappear.” From its double-edged sword guitar attack to the somber lyrics of Way scripting out the journey of The Patient in the story, nothing comes off as cheesy or cabaret. Instead, everything clicks at just the right point and time. My favorite moment, in particular, is the bridge where Way sings, “Can you hear me cry out to you?/Words I thought I’d choke on figure out/I’m really not so with you anymore/I’m just a ghost/So I can’t hurt you anymore.” The simplicity of the lyrics to the complexity of what the guitars were doing made this a truly beautiful musical moment for the group, and solidified my pick as album of the year in 2006.
“The Sharpest Lives” is a certified killer cut of a track and features some of the best guitar work of Toro’s and Iero’s career to date. Seeing this song performed live just exploded on the chorus of, “Give me a shot to remember/And you can take all the pain away from me/A kiss and I will surrender/The sharpest lives are the deadliest to lead,” and allowed me to personally gain the courage to sing in my band at a later date. It was the energy that I felt from their songs like this that truly made me understand when fans would claim, “Their music saved my life.” MCR may not have directly “saved” me, but it did give me a shit-ton of confidence to feel like I could take on all doubters if I followed a similar path as my favorite front-man.
The album itself hits its crescendo and stride on the first single, “Welcome to the Black Parade.” From the gut-wrenching first notes on a piano to the call-to-arms lyrics of Way gaining every misplaced or forgotten kid to join him in the fictional parade, My Chemical Romance hit this one to the moon and back. After the first few opening lines lead into the punk rock verses of the meat of the song, they quickly bleed into one of the more anthemic choruses of my generation where Way sings, “We’ll carry on, we’ll carry on/And though you’re dead and gone believe me/Your memory will carry on/We’ll carry on/And in my heart I can’t contain it/The anthem won’t explain it.” It’s on brilliant choruses such as this one as to why this band hit such an incredible high with The Black Parade. There was simply going to be no way of containing this band’s popularity with certified smash singles like this one.
“I Don’t Love You” reminded me a bit of a brit-pop rock band donned in all black clothing hitting all the right notes and moments on a heartfelt ballad. The music video for this track abandoned much of the marching band garb that the fans had grown accustomed to over this album cycle and delivered a quick re-imagining of what My Chemical Romance could do and become.
As I mentioned before, Bob Bryar really gets forgotten as an underrated player in the parade, but his chops are what drives songs such as “House of Wolves.” Way’s shrieking in between the cabaret-esque verses come off as playful and fun and don’t seem forced at all from a front-man with an affinity for stealing the show. However, this track clearly gets Bryar to take over, and several key fills help drive this song home.
Next up, the heart-wrenching piano and vocal-driven “Cancer,” which Way mentioned in several interviews as being one of the more important songs on the record, and in the totality of the My Chemical Romance project. The beauty of this track comes from its simplicity and features some of the best vocal delivery in Way’s career. This was a song that I didn’t know that MCR was capable of making at this stage in their career, but damn am I glad that they were able to pull it off.
“Mama” sounds like a show-tune drenched in emo lore and despair, and even features Liza Minnelli’s vocals towards the bridge of the song. The song is structured around the story of the character “Mother War” as Way responds to Minelli’s earnest vocals with, “But there’s shit that I’ve done with this fuck of a gun/You would cry out your eyes all along.” All of these elements built into this song would be difficult for the average band to pull off. Lucky for us, My Chemical Romance were not an “average band;” instead they became almost super-human on their landmark LP.
“Sleep” starts with some actual recordings of Way describing his night terrors during the recording process of The Black Parade, and is a clever way of introducing a killer song such as this. The crescendos in this particular song are some of the most powerful moments you will find in our scene still today, and you can tell that the band hit several key chords with their performance on this larger than life song.
“Teenagers” was one song that I originally thought didn’t belong in the fold of the Black Parade-era since it sounded more like a track that would have fit better on Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. However, now I can’t even imagine this record without this brilliant single, that features some of the most dangerous lyrical content of Way’s career when he sings, “The boys and girls in the clique/The awful names that they stick/You’re never gonna fit in much, kid/But if you’re troubled and hurt/What you got under your shirt/Will make them pay for the things that they did.” In the days of school shootings making us almost numb, due to the vast number over the past ten years or so, this was a lyrical line that could’ve derailed some of the success that MCR had due to the possible lack of sensitivity to the topic. In fact, the music video release was also delayed due to another senseless tragedy that happened around that time. Yet, My Chemical Romance was able to release this as one of their more popular singles from this record and their catalog in general.
The ending of The Black Parade record features a great one-two punch of one of my most cherished My Chem-songs in “Disenchanted” and the blazing “Famous Last Words.” Starting with the former, I was incredibly blown away by the production of Rob Cavallo on this song in particular, since he made this somber track shine in so many unique ways. From the delicate opening to the first major hook of, “It was the roar of the crowd that gave me heartache to sing,” everything is pretty damn near perfect. My favorite moment of this song is the restraint that the entire band is able to showcase, as they could’ve done a huge build-up much like the aforementioned “Mama,” yet knowing that they had already followed that formula, they chose to blaze a new path forward on a larger than life emo power ballad. “Famous Last Words,” on the other hand, is just a free-flowing hard rock single that was destined for prime time right from the get-go. With the closing word of “I am not afraid to keep on living/I am not afraid to walk this world alone/Honey, if you stay I’ll be forgiven/Nothing you can say can stop me going home,” Way almost single-handedly gave all of those kids out there struggling for meaning in their own lives a reason to press on and realize that things do get better.
With an ending like that, it’s hard not to get just as excited about listening to this record again from front to back, as MCR intended. This LP will undoubtedly continue to stand the test of time in our scene as one of the most critical records in punk, emo, and rock in general. The Black Parade may be “dead,” but its memory certainly carries on.