Maybe I’m late to the party, but punk’s officially gone goth. A genre that could reliably describe grimy streets from London to L.A. has now turned its focus inward, exploring the black regions of the soul. (Bwahahahaha!) A tad melodramatic, perhaps, but fitting nonetheless when describing the bombast of Newark, New Jersey, quintet My Chemical Romance. I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, positions My Chemical Romance (their name’s an Irvine Welsh allusion) as the kid brother to goth-punk leading lights A.F.I. But where that group’s latest, Sing the Sorrow, matched soaring, catchy guitar riffs with a bleak outlook, MCR is content to grind out their miseries. The genre’s fans will be excited (well, as excited as goth-punk fans get); everyone else will just be put off by Bullets‘ blacker-than-black outlook.
Lead singer Gerard Way is pissed off, but his sentiments are a dime a dozen. “You won’t fuck my friends”, he snarls on the hard-charging “Honey, This Mirror Isn’t Big Enough for the Two of Us”. Yeah, we know — callous girls always treat sensitive (through screaming) lead singer-types like shit. And of course the tune falls into the loud-quiet-loud school of song construction. But to their credit — and to the listeners’ relief — each song sounds different, though they’re all gloomy, and the end result veers into the “…master of none” territory. A bright strutting two-guitar attack from Ray Toro and Frank Iero on “Headfirst for Halos” belies lyrics like “I think I’ll blow my brains against the ceiling”. The moody “Vampires Will Never Hurt You” tosses in a gleaming goth-y guitar bridge, but suffers from literalism; it truly seems to be about vampires. Lines like “As razor sharp white teeth rip out our necks / I saw you there” seem bereft of metaphor. Admittedly, the guitar work on “Vampires” — and pretty much the whole album — is more geared towards creating atmosphere than guitar pyrotechnics, but where was it ever written that you can’t play air guitar and damn souls at the same time?
Need more examples of MCR’s so-black-it’s-cartoonish views? Take “Drowning Lessons”: “We can wash down this engagement ring / With poison and kerosene / And we’ll laugh as we die”. I hate to say it, but their over-earnestness is laughable. Either that, or lead singer Way has a black humor streak that would make Terry Southern blanch. Fortunately, the near-straight-up hardcore of “Our Lady of Sorrows” and “Skylines and Turnstiles” makes them welcome tracks because their brevity precludes any ponderousness. And the latter offers a pretty solo that allows the faintest crack of sunlight to shine through, leaving you wishing there were a few more truly beautiful moments on Bullets. It’s unclear why MCR are hell-bent on choking on their own vitriol; there are plenty of examples of beauty in goth.
It’s My Chemical Romance’s utter lack of irony where an arched brow should be that sinks Bullets‘ closing tracks. “Cubicles” is Dilbert-goes-goth, a fuzzy ode to a doomed office romance (“I’m only two cubes down / I’ll photocopy all the things that we could be”) I’m unsure who this song is aimed at, unless I’m grossly underestimating the size of the goth fan/office drone nation. Even though it was released in 2002, it’s still a strong contender for Most Ill-Conceived Rock Song of 2003. Meanwhile, album closer “Demolition Lovers” is MCR’s warped take on a love song, all noisy, quasi-goth guitars and heartfelt lyrics like “I’d end my days with you / In a hail of bullets”. It could be from Natural Born Killers: The Musical; it’s more silly than anything else, which I doubt was the intent.
The lesson that I hope My Chemical Romance learn from their debut album is this: Doom ‘n’ gloom rock, when properly executed, requires a level of theatricality (again, see A.F.I.), which MCR simply haven’t attained. The lyrics quoted above wouldn’t be half as ridiculous if they were delivered with the appropriate goth bravado. My Chemical Romance haven’t made the goth varsity team yet.