Full of glam-pop anthems and a love of all things shiny, Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys is possibly the least loved of all My Chemical Romance’s albums. Fans were sceptical upon its release in 2010 – the likes of Na Na Na and Sing took a hard left from the fierce punk that had made MCR so adored – and it failed to match either of their previous two albums in terms of sales or cultural impact. Even now, the reformed band aren’t doing anything to celebrate its 10th anniversary.
But Danger Days is not only the bravest record My Chemical Romance ever made. It’s also the most important.
My Chemical Romance started life in the shadows of the terrorist attack on The World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. Gerard Way, a punk kid working for the Cartoon Network, was on his way to the office when the attacks happened. According to MCR’s manager Brian Schechter, the events prompted him to look at the world and ask: “What am I doing with my life? I’m slaving away, drawing pictures for corporations and not helping anyone or making anything in life meaningful.”
The band was born out of Way's renewed desire to make a difference. And for three albums (2002’s I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, 2004’s Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge and 2006’s The Black Parade) My Chemical Romance did just that by finding hope in darkness.
Connecting with a generation coming of age as the war on terror raged and The Internet took community online, the band offered young people a reassuring voice. With ambitious punk anthems that acknowledged hurt, struggle, addiction, confusion and loss, but always offered victory alongside the space to talk about it, there was no one doing it like My Chem – and they were adored for it. The Black Parade not only sold millions of records, with lead single Teenagers and the title track making the band a household name, but the epic theatre of the record took Three Cheers’ blood-splattered message of hope and supersized it. Never had being an outsider looked so welcoming.
The tour for The Black Parade was gruelling. Guitarist Frank Iero, bassist Mikey Way and drummer Bob Bryar all missed at least one of the 133 dates, and while their popularity soared, the backlash against the band was equally as huge. They were heavily bottled at Reading Festival 2006 – Way would tell the rest of the band “I never want to play this festival again until we headline” – and The Daily Mail accused them of leading a suicide cult.
It was enough to drive Way to quitting point. “I didn’t want to do it anymore," he said in a 2014 interview with DIY. "The Black Parade was a nice ending point for me – it was an extremely high note, I had said all I’d wanted to say. There was nothing more for me to say under that umbrella of My Chemical Romance.”
But in time, all that pressure and backlash gave the band something to fight back against.
The fourth MCR album was originally a no-nonsense return to their punk roots. No concepts, no grand message – just a vehicle for the band to try to get away from the monster that they’d created in an attempt to keep the band going. But that safe, respectable rock record was thankfully scrapped. Ten of the tracks were later released as 2013 compilation album Conventional Weapons, and while Make Room!!!, Boy Division and The World Is Ugly are good songs, they lack the flair and attitude that makes MyChem so great. The fourth record was the expected act of rebellion, and where’s the fun in that?
“When things start to succeed and go really well, that’s when a lot of people start to have an opinion and that’s when you run into struggle,” Way told The Guardian in 2019. “After The Black Parade everybody had a fucking opinion about what MCR should be. So it made it difficult to figure out what direction to take next. You get caught up in this trap of ‘Is it ever gonna be good enough?’” So the band rebelled against the possibility of being just Another Rock Band and made Danger Days: an over-the-top punk-pop album that embraced the end of their world and didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought their band should be.
Rather than another record about hope in darkness, the ambitious Danger Days saw the band step into the sunlight and soundtrack what happens next. A brave album with an urgent lust for life, it’s a celebration of surviving against the odds. From the pirate radio introduction of Look Alive Sunshine to the post-credit snarl of Vampire Money – a fourth-wall breaking punk track that criticises the media for refusing to let artists grow – Danger Days saw My Chemical Romance embrace colour, fun and freedom.
After the pressure of being the biggest alternative band in the world, it was a bubblegum reminder of the joy of music. But with its reckless abandon for the gothic poetry that had carried them this far, how could it not be divisive?
Every date of their World Contamination Tour saw crowds split. Half had bright hair, cardboard rayguns and came ready to dance, while the rest still dressed in the uniform of The Black Parade. Lead single Na Na Na didn’t appear to have the same emotional depth as Helena, and the arena-baiting pop sparkle of Sing was co-opted by Glee. Some fans were understandably worried they’d sold out, but in reality, it was quite the opposite.
A reinvention rather than a tentative step forward, Danger Days was a rebellion against the expected. A dirty, sexy, rainbow record where anything could happen, it was proof that My Chemical Romance weren’t going to grow old gracefully, as they destroyed any notion of being respectable or predictable with a Pow!
Set around Battery City – a utopia created in the aftermath of the apocalyptic Helium Wars – and following the disappearance of Australia, Danger Days sees Rocky Horror meet The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Mad Max, as The Killjoys (four freelance anarchists raised on violence and rock ‘n’ roll) try to keep a young, orphan girl with a terrible secret away from the tyrannical Better Living Industries. More a soundtrack to an alternate reality than a concept record with a strict narrative, Danger Days saw My Chemical Romance really start to play.
By this point in their career, My Chemical Romance was more than a band, it was an idea. They stood for freedom of expression, creativity, rebellion, perseverance, optimism and following your gut. After how close they’d come to breaking up during The Black Parade, the group wanted their message to carry on after they’d gone. It can be seen in the music video for Sing, with the story continuing after those Fabulous Killjoys are taken out by Korse & the Draculoids and that forward-facing optimism can also be heard in the bold, in-your-face slogans that litter the record.
It's an album of empowering songs for the end of the world. Sing is a celebratory anthem that encourages you to use your voice, no matter who tries to silence you – something the band had always championed but never soundtracked before. Save Yourself, I’ll Hold Them Back is about love winning over fear and hate, while The Only Hope For Me Is You is an ode to their fanbase and the strength they wield together. After playing characters for The Black Parade, Danger Days saw the band as future versions of themselves, a powerful statement from a group who’d always preached about the importance of being unapologetically yourself.
Rumoured to be called The Paper Kingdom, the fifth My Chem album was a concept record set around a support group for parents who’d lost their children in horrible ways. “The record that didn’t get made was extremely dark because Danger Days didn’t capture the culture in the same way that Black Parade had,” Way said in an interview during the hiatus. Trying to recapture the energy of that breakout record made Gerard feel trapped and sent him into the worst depression he’d faced since starting the band. It was then that he knew that My Chemical Romance was over. “No compromise. No surrender. No fucking shit. To me that's rock and roll. And I believe in rock and roll,” he wrote in his farewell letter to the band. They're all sentiments that sit at the very core of Danger Days.
Despite the evolution of those first three albums, they all exist in the same noir-tinted world. It wasn’t until Danger Days that the band showed just how ambitious they could be. It’s the record that not only proves that MyChem are more than an emo band, but tracks like Kids From Yesterday opened the door for the very different solo projects that followed. The album's refusal to play by the rules also means that the band have total freedom for their upcoming reunion and whatever new music comes with it.
Brave, bold and surprising, Danger Days is the album that rewrote My Chemical Romance’s story. Trading dark makeup for neon warpaint, it saw the band go out with a bang rather than under the weight of their own success.