#361: The Black Parade, My Chemical Romance
But growing up, there was a definite sense that nobody really respected emo music. Hell, Rolling Stone certainly didn’t. As such, emo isn’t that well represented on the RS 500 list. This is the only emo album we’ll get.
It’s not fair, but it is fitting, because My Chemical Romance was the cream of the emo crop. Hell, they practically invented the genre. And this album was their magnum opus. Lead guitarist Ray Toro explained that they wanted to make “something that 20 or 30 years from now, parents could play for their kids and say, ‘This is what I was listening to when I was your age. Check it out, it’s still cool.’” And it came out when I was in the sixth grade! So I was its target audience, and I devoured it. I know every single word to every single song on this album.
That said, My Chem is a big part of the reason emo was so maligned. Actually, it’s the Daily Mail’s fault, after they famously (disgustingly) linked the band to a young girl’s suicide. The whole thing is scaremongering bullshit, but my favorite quote is the assertion that the Black Parade is “a place where all emos believe they will go when they die.” They really thought we were that stupid.
Granted, this album has a somewhat bleak outlook at times. It’s a concept album about a man dying of “Cancer,” who’s looking back at his life with a small measure of regret and a large helping of spite. “Dead!” begs the question If life ain’t just a joke, then why am I dead? “Sleep” and “This Is How I Disappear” are similarly self-deprecating, with the narrator hinting that he might deserve death. But come on. This was post-death metal, post-grunge, for crying out loud. Emo was hardly the scariest genre. In fact, it was downright cuddly at times. Isn’t it shorthand for emotional?
MCR cited Queen and David Bowie as influences, which is pretty obvious, due to the sheer drama of it all. The first song is titled “The End.” and starts with a hospital monitor beeping to a crescendo. “Mama” has freaking Liza Minnelli on it?! And penultimate track “Famous Last Words” still makes me mist up like a melodramatic tweenager — I am not afraid to keep on living/ I am not afraid to walk this world alone. Imagine listening to that on the bus to middle school, and try not to get inspired.
Drama notwithstanding, My Chem was maybe the first band I ever loved specifically for guitar. “House of Wolves” is a vicious little song, as is “The Sharpest Lives.” Plus, I love Gerard Way’s vocal inflection. It’s so specific. He’s from New Jersey and sounds like it, especially on some of these ballads, like “Disenchanted” — If I’m so wrong/ How can you listen all night long? has some truly bizarre sounding vowels.
For about five years, My Chem was everywhere. Hell, my dad loved them, after hearing the song “Teenagers” all over the radio, again and again. (Oh, to be a teenager when that song came out.) And is there a more instantly recognizable piano opening to a song than “Welcome to the Black Parade”?
It’s really nice to go back and listen to an album I was obsessed with when I was fourteen and find that it still feels so urgent and relevant. I always knew that music snobs would eventually come around to emo. I predict that when RS inevitably updates this list in ten years, emo will have a much bigger presence.
Least Favorite Song: It’s “I Don’t Love You,” but man, I still know every single word.
Final Footnote: The biggest tragedy of the streaming era is the death of the hidden track. Remember hidden tracks? Like “Blood”?