[16 April 2014]
PopMatters Interviews Editor
Sometimes, it may seem like an easy job to create a Greatest Hits album for a band: line up all the radio hits in a row, slap a new song or remix on there, get some fancy cover art in place, cash yer paycheck.
Yet for a “mainstream cult band” like My Chemical Romance was, that task is actually not as easy as you might think. On the one hand, the group had legit hits, but their biggest smash (the Top 10 single “Welcome to the Black Parade”) is by no means their most identifiable song, and if you were going on radio support alone, you’d have to completely disregard their scrappy 2002 debut I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, which basically sounded like the rest of what was gracing the pages of Alternative Press at the time. Of course, through crazy one-offs and fan-pleasing gestures, there is a wealth of great material that the casual fan wouldn’t have any idea about. Thus, May Death Never Stop You makes a lot of curious choices, as it basically tries to have it both ways: serving as a one-stop shop for casual MCR fans as well as a collector’s item for the group’s devout fanbase. There’s a lot to like, even more to question, but all in all, May Death Never Stop You proves to be quite the lively affair.
The disc opens with “Fake Your Death”, which is a solid, bombastic cut that wouldn’t sound too out of place on their best album, the 2006 rock opera The Black Parade. It’s a bit mainstream in intent, but a solid anthem for the group to go out on. From there, it pulls two cuts from Bullets, their decent yet unremarkable debut. The group has some solid melodic ideas in place, but Geoff Rickly’s flat production does the group no favors, making Gerard Way’s furious screech sound somewhat anonymous. Picking the album’s first two singles is a serviceable choice, but by focusing on those over, say, “Drowning Lessons”, their first truly noteworthy song, is somewhat puzzling.
Fortunately, the gigantic songwriting leap the group took between their debut and 2004’s Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge is quite the sight to behold, and given how that album served as their mainstream breakthrough, it was easy to pull a lot of top-shelf material and modern rock staples without missing a beat. “I’m Not OK (I Promise)”, “Helena”, and “The Ghost of You” are all here, don’t worry. However, at this point Death takes an interesting approach, swapping out an actual single (the relatively dry-sounding “Thank You for the Venom”) for a true-blue fan favorite (“You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison”). It works out beautifully, and, especially along side the other Cheers singles, it gives a nice helping of sonic diversity, and, quite frankly, contains a stronger hook than “Venom”.
This continues even further with Black Parade‘s five cuts, here featuring another three big hits (“Welcome to the Black Parade”, “Famous Last Words”, and arguably their best pop moment ever, “Teenagers”), but excises the U.K. Top 20 hit “I Don’t Love You” for two of Parade‘s most iconic numbers: “Cancer” and the amazing showtune romp that is “Mama”, featuring the best-ever showcase for Way’s unique vocal tics as well as a brief-yet-killer Liza Minnelli cameo (no really) that the band apparently fought very hard for. These five cuts serve as a great overview of the band’s most diverse disc, featuring the group in all sorts of poses, each one exhibiting a new, unexpected side. It’s hard to boil down a disc as solid as Black Parade down to just a handful of songs, but ask any hardcore fan, and they’d probably come up with the same.
Then, of course, there is the issue of the band’s last major label release, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, which, if you hadn’t already clued on on the title, is itself a concept album, but it features ideas that are more scattershot in nature, a narrative which is less focused, and, ultimately, a dance-rock vibe that worked for the group only occasionally. Sure, “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)” and the incredible disco-synth of “Planetary (Go!)” should be part of any MCR compilation (even for those who out-and-out hated the group’s move to keyboards), and that song that Glenn Beck referred to as propaganda of course has to be on here, but for such an overtly poppy disc, Danger Days highlight “The Kids From Yesterday” strangely loses power on this compilation (especially with it’s minute-long outro that could’ve easily been cut). There were other cuts that could’ve fit on in its place (“DESTROYA” and “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” immediately come to mind), but instead, that one song is used to then feature three pretty weak and disposable early-years demos at the end. There isn’t much to learn from those tracks aside from the fact that for a band with such humble beginnings, they sure have come a long way.
Again, though, we come back to the notion that this is a mix-CD that is trying real hard to split the difference between accommodating casual fans and mascara-wearing acolytes all the same. No green-eared MCR observer wants to hear a trio of really weak and tinny demos at the end of a Greatest Hits album. That’s for collectors. Heck, if we’re going to nitpick about what’s missing, let’s point the finger at the band’s “Under Pressure” cover with the Used, their take on “Desolation Row” for the soundtrack to Watchmen, or perhaps even their cover of “Astro Zombies” by Misfits for the Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland compilation—all wonderful curiosities that casual fans can get into.
Although some would argue that if you’re going to cater to the hardcore, you can go a step further by including literally any single song from group’s final piece-by-piece full-length, Conventional Weapons, which showed them getting back to their rocking roots (“Boy Division” or “Gun.” could’ve made their way onto here easily). Perhaps maybe a single song from The Mad Gear and Missle Kid EP? Their “All I Want for Christmas is You” cover for a radio station? B-sides like “My Way Home is Through You”? The gloriously goofy lark that is “Blood”? Literally, any of the named songs here would be infinitely more fascinating than the trio of demos tossed on at the end, because those demos are for completists only.
Small grievances aside, May Death Never Stop You serves as a fitting monument to My Chemical Romance’s legacy. They flirted with the mainstream, made drastic changes in style just when their last iteration proved to be the most popular thing they’ve yet done, and managed to churn out great, exciting, surprising tunes all the same. Making an overview for a group with this many unique phases would be a challenge for anyone, but with some smart inclusion of fan favorites over the less-interesting radio singles, Death proves to be a fitting tribute to MCR’s lifespan, and a sure reminder that whether you loved them or hated them, My Chemical Romance is a band we won’t forget about anytime soon.