Practically guaranteed (along with the shocking blond hair and gothic state of mind) to aggravate longtime fans, The Black Parade is, at best, an immersing concept album -- and at worst an uneven misfire.
First off, let’s get straight down to the crunch: with bands like My Chemical Romance at the wheel, emo music is not going anywhere. Their third album, The Black Parade, based entirely on a terminally ill patient in an average hospital ward, is flooringly, if disturbingly, catchy and ruthlessly experimental. They’ve outgrown both their stereotype and the facelessness of many contemporaries. But, be that as it may, fame and fortune has not lightened the hearts of these five juveniles from New Jersey, because this is not your bunch of 13 happy, radio-tailored tunes -- something that could be expected, if not anticipated, from previous works Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge and I Brought Me Your Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love.
They’re nurturing a diehard obsession with augmented guitar trills, a factor that possesses the record with a haunting chill that any amount of maturing does nothing to cure. Gerard Way speaks through imagery and metaphor in emotive death-whispers, but many of these songs could just as easily be interpreted from his own angsty past. Nor does it stop him from laying on piles of self-pity -- something his ghost-white hair makeover should confirm -- further, musical proof being in heartfelt ballad “Cancer” or the spit-a-minute “This Is How I Disappear". They’ve tried to steer away from pictures of the deceased, and even attempt to do so once or twice amongst this new material, but it’s apparent that this glum, heart-on-sleeve outlook isn’t just a phase for the band’s mouthpiece.
Don’t mistake the assorted grand-scale ambitions or comparisons (not least of which it’s this year’s American Idiot) for apathy, though; single “Welcome to the Black Parade” ties together their loose ends better than ever before, and clears easily as many forms, ranging from teary-eyed recall to fist-in-the-air muscle (“We’ll carry on!”), as a Tool song in its epic five-minute length.
However, let’s not forget that for every essence of the sinister lurking within, such as the deceptive piano riffraff which leads into album opener “Dead!”, Way balances it with equal amount of sweet, disarming coo. It’s as if he’s trying to be the next Billy Corgan, and it can become quite a sickening aspect to The Black Parade if you let it. On occasions, “I Don’t Love You” to list one, it sounds like they’re trying too hard to play up... down, rather... to the teen audience they unwittingly stumbled on with Three Cheers. Of course, they know who they are, and they’re probably going to embrace this disc like nothing else when they get around to listening to it, but for all others it seems like eye-rolling filler invested to hang on to their existing fanbase. They’ve definitely changed their sound, but seem to be stuck in the middle ground between early days and new success. They’re still young, so there’s plenty of time for them to sort out frustrations such as these in future (band members please take note), but The Black Parade in the meantime serves as the agonizing transitional project. The virtual scapegoat.
About half the album is devoted to schoolbook lost love lyricisms per se, and the other half serves as a pure adrenalin hit -- there’s not much behind them, admittedly, but it’s fun. Among both are moments of expansion; “Disenchanted” utilizes acoustic guitar, a move My Chemical Romance have never really undertaken before, with the anthemic sensibilities of Jimmy Eat World circa Bleed American, and the suitably upbeat “Mama” drives a stake into anyone who was previously foolish enough to argue that the band have no sense of humor.
Unlike Green Day’s American Idiot, a political drama which begins with a live and well character and ends with his suicide, symbolic or otherwise, The Black Parade is relatively politically free, and starts with a near-dead antagonist and concludes with a dead one. Otherwise, everything’s there. Tight as a unit, and apparently determined to create music that will, in one way or another, appeal to everyone, My Chemical Romance are in danger of forgetting that hooks, riffs, and yes, aggression (something Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge had, and this could have used more of and better-placed), are also needed to stay on top of their game. At one point Gerard Way seems to share our concern: “I’m just a boy / I’m not a hero... I’m unashamed” he blurts on “Welcome to the Black Parade”. You said it, son! Be surprised if there’s lots of radio success surrounding this album in the coming months, although it’s still worth the weight -- but, then again, for all the urgency contained inside, it’s just too inconsistent for you to miss much if you decide not to check it out.