My Chemical Romance
The Black Parade
here's a moment towards the end of the video for My Chemical Romance's "Helena" when the band, as pallbearers, carry a coffin down the steps of a church. The coffin's occupant, having earlier risen for a quick pirouette, has returned to her place, and the pallbearers are surrounded by a black-clad crowd of Busby Berkleyites with black umbrellas who in ludicrous unison extend first the umbrellas and then their arms, throwing out the latter with such stone-faced zest they, in a fraction of a second, best all the snarling lead singer Gerard Way is doing from his corner of the coffin. "Helena," like the band that created it, is devoted to excess in its most Wildeian form, but the video achieves real success only twice—once when the dead girl dances and again when the umbrellas open and the arms fly.
Parts of The Black Parade play like three- or four-minute excavations of this fraction of a second, and enough of the album exists in the glorious shadow of those choreographed umbrellas to more or less satisfy those who will come to it in search of absurdity. Such ironists take pleasure in bad art, in extracting from it things unintended and uncomprehended by its creators; but it seems wrong to approach this record like that, to immediately reduce the band to animated diary entries, a kitschy pastiche of high school. It's also very difficult not to.
First of all, forget the title. The color here isn't black, it's purple, and if MCR's sophomore album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge was spattered with it, their follow-up is a Phoenician throne room. Forget, too, the much-ballyhooed storyline about a cancer patient. Your first real impression of The Black Parade should come with its overture—leadenly dubbed "The End"—in which Gerard Way's quavering, queasily jagged voice gets a chance to serenade us sans the usual enveloping guitars, and the group’s Queen-love is evoked in at least three different ways (disembodied finger-snaps augment the ghoulish piano for a noncommittal measure; when Way sings "Here's my resignation / I'll serve it in drag" a falsetto choir joins him before immediately vanishing).
"The End" is representative of the album's better half, in which ridiculous poetry is couched in giddy arrangements: faux-jaded ditty "Mama,” for instance, with its tireless conviction that it's the parents and not the teenagers who are unaware of the reality of death. Or advance single "Welcome to the Black Parade,” which declares Way's status as "savior of the broken, the beaten, and the damned" over a twinkling piano bludgeoned quickly into submission to make way for the shredding guitars. (Somewhere in the murk of the latter is shouted a reference to "the disappointed faces of your peers,” six simple words from which this record's audience, attitude, and aspirations can all be inferred.) "The Sharpest Lives" is a chugging, wailing theme song for the freshly debauched teenager who wants everyone to know just how drunk he was last night; album highlight "Teenagers" is a straightforward indictment of Bad Adults.
What saves all this from drama-club pointlessness and MySpace baroque is MCR's deft way with an anthem, accentuating the most important roars and chugs and never spending too much time on the same bit of anguish. Way's billowing snarl goes through the same calisthenics in each song, but that doesn't mean it won't do, and as many tracks have real hooks as get by on the aimless ditherings of screaming guitars. Putting aside the hoodied acolytes expecting to have their lives changed with each verse, this is utterly unimportant stuff, and if you're over fifteen you're not deeply identifying with any of it. All that's left, then, is the degree to which any of these songs leap unexpectedly to mind when you're not listening to them—the best this album can be is catchy, a goal often enough achieved.
So: this is a goofy record of bubblegum punk, with Queen lapping at its edges and enough good tracks to justify the smattering of empty screamfests. It's not going to disappoint the true believers because they won't notice the empty screamfests, and it's not going to disappoint the ironists because they already have. The only people it's going to disappoint are those who once saw in Way's gnashing of teeth a spark of honesty that made some of his lyrics worthwhile outside the adolescent set: in the way breakout song "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)" made a distorted but decent case for the kids not being all right. The songs on The Black Parade take not being all right as a starting-point—everyone's Psychotic and Disturbed going in. But forget it; the video's gonna be awesome.