Why hello there, my dear emo kids at heart! It’s time to bust out the ol’ black nail polish and eyeshadow, because we’re going to dive deep into one of your classic childhood/adolescence records today: The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance, who I will assume don’t need much of an introduction from yours truly at this point in time. Indeed, this is one of the most enthusiastically received records among those who like to participate in the little feature of mine, at least in recent memory, and so it comes as no surprise that the contributions you will find below are charged with emotions and memories galore.
‘Come one, come all to this tragic affair...’
15 years have passed since My Chemical Romance gave birth to their legacy in the legitimate rock opera, The Black Parade. Filled with drama, decadence, and death, these 14 tracks work together to make the defining album of their career, and dare I say, a generation. More often than not if you play a single high G note on a piano, several heads in the room will turn, expecting the intro “Welcome to the Black Parade” to follow. But before we jump to that track, let’s not forget that this one doesn’t show up first. After the somber but inviting “The End.” kicks things off, “Dead!” is a full-on rock and roll anthem with blues rock licks, mixed with punk riffs and harmonized vocals that no one expected from these emo punks who just a few years before were getting airplay with dramatic tales of youth on Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge. This was some sophisticated stuff with pianos, horns, and intelligent but still delightfully edgy lyrics. I remember hearing this for the first time and being blown away by how diverse and authentic this felt. I could tell this was coming from a brilliant set of minds that had a lot to say and a lot of naysayers to prove wrong. The fact that we’re here a decade and a half later still talking about this means that MCR had the last laugh.
‘When I was a young boy…’
This album hit me as I was reaching for heavier music as I was growing out of the music of my youth and even away from more of the punk-forward genres into more post-hardcore and metal territory. So in some ways I was growing up with the band a bit, and while this is certainly still considered and emo classic, there’s far more to this album than just that. “Welcome to the Black Parade” is a genuinely grand and beautiful song that weaves several genres together and makes a tapestry that could be hung just about anywhere. “I Don’t Love You” is another song that shows just how good MCR were at songwriting. They were still firmly using their emo and punk sensibilities in the vocal approach and lyrics, but the song was written as a contemporary pop song with familiar progressions that made it insanely catchy and memorable. It’s still one of my favorites on the record for that very reason.
‘Turn away. If you could, get me a drink of water…’
“Cancer” is literally the saddest song that I know. Yes, there are tracks that are more subtle, tragic, and balanced. But the head-on approach of this song still, to this day, haunts me. It’s a fearless look into the eyes of the disease and doesn’t shy away from the horrors and reality of one experiencing the effects of it and its treatment. There’s something to be said of such bare-knuckle bravery when broaching this topic, and that’s why it’s always stuck with me.
‘I am not afraid to keep on living…’
“Famous Last Words” is arguably the heaviest track My Chemical Romance ever released – the driving beat, the riffs, and the massive chorus just seal this as one of my favorite tracks on the record. There’s a beautiful sense of finality as well, and it’s properly situated at the end of the album. In the years that have passed since this album released parts of it have lived in my head, rent free. That’s a testament to the songwriting and power of this album. Yes, it’s the emo kids’ Dark Side of the Moon, but it’s also the best album to ever come out of that scene. It transcended, grew, and secured itself in the pantheon of great rock records of the 21st century.
2006 was a big-ass year for rock, punk and post-hardcore: Louder Now, A City By The Light Divided, Still Searching, Decemberunderground, Crisis, For Blood And Empire, and Billy Talent’s killer second album. Even in metalcore, it was a very notable year with Define The Great Line, Redeemer, As Daylight Dies, and more. Again, HUGE year! Yet My Chemical Romance’s third album stands tall out of that year in scope, success, and cultural influence. A band that came from sweaty New Jersey basements in 2002, gained Warped Tour prominence in 2004, and went on to find international stadium stardom and pyrotechnics galore with this conceptual beast. Seminal doesn’t even begin to capture it accurately.
So where do you even begin with The Black Parade? Well, there’s the usual notes writers pontificate about when covering this 2006 cornerstone. G notes and ‘When I was a young boy…‘ jokes abound; the military jackets and Tim Burton-looking aesthetic; Gerard Way’s iconic white hair and impeccable vocal performance; a pop-punky rock-opera about death and reflection; drummer Bob Bryar’s first album with MCR; and Chris Lord-Alge mixing this behemoth, making it sound larger than life (say what you want about CLA due to his contributions in the Loudness war and his preset-heavy plugins, but his work behind the boards here is fucking immense).
It all comes down to the songs. “I Don’t Love You” is a mid-paced, acoustic-tinged power ballad about being honest with someone you no longer love. The two mega-hits of “Famous Last Words” and “Welcome to the Black Parade” have been discussed to death by now, but I bet you thought about both choruses when I mentioned them. The Bowie and Queen-esque overture “The End.”, followed by the dual Frank Iero/Ray Toro riff-driven “Dead!” is an incredible double-whammy. “House Of Wolves,” with its big band drum fill, on-edge cabaret mood, and Way rolling his a’s, is a stellar deep cut. As is “Mama”, this war-time lamentation piece about fractured family relationships that even features Liza Minnelli’s dramatic vocalizations during the climax. And then there’s “This Is How I Disappear” – what a fucking song! My favourite MCR tune next to “Destroya” and “Headfirst For Halos”; my soul leaves my body every time when its bridge, and how said part transitions back into the final chorus, hits.
The Black Parade is a classic record for 2000s alternative music, but it ain’t perfect. “Cancer” is a beautifully direct song about cancer itself… when performed live. On-record, it’s sonically grating due to the weird effect placed upon Way’s voice, a vocal production that isn’t found anywhere else on the LP. (Though his performance otherwise is gut-wrenching in the best way.) Then there’s “Teenagers”. Sandwiched between two of the album’s finest songs – the meteoric impact of “Sleep” and the bittersweet revelations in “Disenchanted” – rests a rowdy but shallow rock number about not understanding the youth of today, with an extremely annoying hook to boot. Yet the album still persists beyond musical and generational boundaries, as the rest of this album’s 11 tracks (12 if you count “Blood”) are just that good. Even my mum loves this album!
For MCR, The Black Parade was them breaking through, proving to the world that they could do bigger and better things, that “Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge” wasn’t some fluke. We’ve seen this happen with other alt artists: Twenty One Pilots with Blurryface, Fall Out Boy with Infinity On High, Paramore through their self-titled album, and so on. There are countless bands – from a range of different demographics and styles – that wouldn’t be the same without this album. Hell, I wouldn’t be the same person I am now without first discovering it in early 2008 – I hadn’t heard anything like it back then and it blew my mind. Throughout my teens, I considered this my all-time favourite record. Now that I’m 26? I don’t place it quite so high but still love it dearly (even The Melon loves it!). For myself and so many fans, and for so many artists in the 15 years since, there are two clear periods of their musical lives: before and after The Black Parade.
We talk a lot about really influential and iconic albums in A Scene In Retrospect, but this one feels so much different to me. The Black Parade is hands-down one of the most iconic and formative albums for my teenage years. This album came out in 2006, at the peak of middle school for me. I was a social outcast; the quiet nerdy kid who sat in the corner and read books and got picked on for it.
While it’s not from this album, I feel like I can’t discuss my relationship with My Chemical Romance without starting with “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”, the powerhouse of a single from 2004’s Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge. I was misunderstood and slowly becoming emo without really knowing what it meant. Seeing the music video for that song and the band of outcasts who made it look cool was beyond iconic for me. That song became my anthem, its parent album the backdrop of my adolescent angst.
Naturally, when The Black Parade came out, I was hype as it gets. However, I absolutely hated this album at first because of its popularity. It didn’t feel fair that so many people were enjoying this group who had become so integral to my existence. I got mad when Fuse was regularly playing the music video to “Welcome to the Black Parade” and kind of shut MCR out of my little emo brain for a couple years.
My cousin Leigh Ann had a huge emo phase at the same time as me, and being barely a year apart in age, we were really tight at this point. We’d listen to sad music and talk about how nobody else understood our individual problems and have a good time whining the night away. This was an admittedly… cringy time in young-teenage-Billie’s life, and I own that. Anyways, she showed me “Teenagers”, and as a fresh teen, it was like MCR was speaking to me individually all over again. “Teenagers” was the anthem to our teenage rebellion, and we even made up a fun and angsty dance to go along with the lyrics!
The Black Parade was so much more than just a music album, and it still feels that way. It’s a damn good rock album, and I still think Gerard Way has one of the most distinct and memorable voices in rock music. I say rock music because The Black Parade really isn’t that emo, musically, for being the most emo album of all time. It’s a great debate that I don’t feel like getting into, honestly, but I always love hearing opinions on if MCR is actually emo music or not. I’ll say this much – regardless of if their music is emo enough for you, they are the kings of 2000’s emo and completely redefined what the term meant on a musical and cultural level. Emo kids like me wouldn’t exist without MCR. My entire sense of style and my entire teen years identity would simply not be what it is today if it weren’t for this powerhouse of an album.
I have simply too many memories of sneaking to try out make-up and talk to girls with my limited texting minutes while “The Sharpest Lives” blared in the background. “I Don’t Love You” punctuated my first major break-up (and every single one since if we’re being honest). Maybe the most important to this day, however, is the unstoppable force that is “Famous Last Words”. If I had a dollar for every time I screamed myself hoarse singing along to this chorus, I would be able to buy my weight in tacos. In retrospect, The Black Parade is probably the most important album of my generation for emo kids. I have more memories associated with this group than I was prepared to explore for this piece, and it’s crazy how 15 years later it still keeps flooding back.
Rodrigo Torres Pinelli
When I signed up for this feature, I, entirely confident, rested upon the thought of an immediate word plethora coming out whenever I started working on it. As I write these lines, I can assure you that the confidence has evaporated, and so have the words. ‘Cause in a feature like this, dealing with an album as accompanying as The Black Parade is to me, appealing to fact-checking and listing things we already know is not the way to go. It rather is a moment of heavy reflection on the brightest and darkest points as an earthling, where this album has been present since 2006, always there for me.
My Chemical Romance was present in my life before I even spoke this language properly. I was 8 years old the first time I watched “Helena” on MTV. My afternoons at that age consisted of coming back from school and watching MTV’s Top Ten Videos. There were episodes where MCR got three simultaneous videos airing at the same time: “The Ghost of You”, “Helena”, and “I’m Not Okay”. So yeah, they became massive to me, as they did to tons of others, in the earliest stages of our coming of age.
As I said, at the time all I saw was a bunch of guys in weird suits playing in a church while people danced beside a coffin. I loved it. No clue I didn’t even grasp the musical, lyrical, and aesthetic rivets MCR painted on The Black Parade until much, much later.
All the imagery they elaborated on was perceived by me from a childish perspective. There was no room for rationality or concept. I can vividly evoke memories of “Cancer” playing on my iPod nano while traveling somewhere, always hiding my iPod whenever that song played. I didn’t want anyone to see I was listening to a song named after the disease. I also skipped the first part of “Sleep” too many times because I was afraid of the intro. I remember the woman with a gas mask in the “Welcome to the Black Parade”. She freaked me out, but I loved the song anyway because Ray Toro had curly hair as I did. These are just little memory frames I can trace when listening to the record. They were heroes. Weird ones, but heroes still.
Instead of having teddy bears or journals, I had albums. Many of them I did not let go of as I grew up, and I probably won’t at all. Not a single album from other bands in that scene offered that to me. This one was compelling. It is, still today, as emotionally crushing as it was fifteen years back. Therefore, countless opportunities for reconnection with MCR‘s magnum opus arose with time.
Reconnection, in effect, comes along with the transformation of the self. Inherently shaped by life experience, my encounters with songs like “Disenchanted”, “I Don’t Love You”, or “Famous Last Words” rendered sentimental maturity in my teen years. Pop punk had lost strength, as MCR faded into a lesser frequent act in my daily jams. I had now incorporated the desire to play music with a band, as I discovered the world of heavy metal. It took me many years to understand that The Black Parade acted as the extremely early gateway to Iron Maiden, Metallica, Queen, Rush – you know, bands that mark you forever.
In retrospect, my late teens were characterized for having too much arrogance and a close-minded approach to music. I guess metal had absorbed me exceedingly. It created barriers to other genres, due to their ‘unworthiness‘. Purist bullshit, right? During that time, I shamed myself for listening to bands like MCR, Sum 41, or Simple Plan. Now, I almost shame myself for shaming myself in the past.
It wasn’t until I started music theory lessons that I had the chance to make peace with my arrogance, set it aside, and humble myself down a bit. Along with a fellow student, now a dear friend of mine, we embarked upon a journey that would revitalize my link to The Black Parade: harmonic and melodic analysis. It did affect my rusty relationship with Linkin Park‘s Minutes to Midnight and Thirty Seconds to Mars‘ A Beautiful Lie as well. However, neither of those had the amount of cloth MCR brought to the table in terms of how music theory could massively improve your appreciation of their craft. The arrangements were far too appealing compared to other popular songs. Different leagues entirely.
Since then, The Black Parade has become a musical landmark, a contention device, and a friend. This is the ultimate takeaway that I’d like to offer: that of finding whatever it is that creates a special connection with you. Something that you can recycle forever. Embrace it. Own that connection and let it own you. Let it push you forward or lie you back. Let it motivate you, inspire you, content you. That is what The Black Parade is to me today and, hopefully, for many days to come.