Drowned in Sound: My Chemical Romance

Drowned in Sound
My Chemical Romance
The Black Parade
by Kodi McKinney, DJ at U92
kodimckinney@gmail.com

There are two words that can both excite and terrify rock music fans when combined: "concept" and "album." At best, images of Sgt. Pepper's-era Beatles and Queen at their best come to mind; at worst, one thinks of people doing very ill-advised things with keyboards and dwarves. On their latest album, The Black Parade, My Chemical Romance appear boasting uniforms like the former and a new sense of grandeur.
Although The Black Parade doesn't entirely work as a storyline-driven concept, it still comes together more clearly then My Chemical Romance's previous two releases. (Yes, those were concept albums.) The hype says this one revolves around a cancer patient and what he sees at death, but good luck making any real sense of it. Its cohesion seems weaker when compared to Green Day's American Idiot, which also used producer Rob Cavallo.
That is not to detract from the music, which reflects considerable growth on the band's part. The aching "Cancer" and solemnly defiant "The End" both seem like logical progressions from their previous hit "Helena" and "Dead!" even features a partially harmonized guitar solo from Ray Toro that works perfectly. Vocalist Gerard Way has never had an incredible voice, but he uses it here with enough gusto to revive the ghost of Freddie Mercury. Queen influences, in fact, are in so many places on The Black Parade that the band should probably consider royalty payments. "Welcome to the Black Parade," the lead single and best song, is especially close to something Brian May might have helped create.
This musical leap forward seems to have lit a fire under the band. Though rhythm guitarist Frank Iero has always been tremendously energetic, he and his band mates tear it apart on the fast tracks and add impressive depth to the slower parts. Believe it or not, when Liza Minnelli shows up for a two-line cameo on "Mama," the band plays with such furor that you instantly forget she was there. That excitement is sadly scarce in mainstream rock and it keeps The Black Parade going even as it weakens near the end.
Aside from the obscure storyline, the only really bad thing I can say about The Black Parade is that it won't hold up to repeat listening as well as it should. The songwriting on this disc is excellent, but not extraordinary, and albums that go for the epic jugular have to be held to a higher standard than most. The Black Parade is a fantastic release and easily one of the top rock albums of the year, but it's not quite as good as American Idiot. However, that album took Green Day well over a decade to work up to; My Chemical Romance have crafted something close in only four years of recorded existence. If they can stay creative, their future potential is kind of frightening.
Rating: 4 out of 5