Avant-garde and daring, Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge may be My Chemical Romance's greatest collection of songs. But it was the fearless approach to song, storytelling and imagery on The Black Parade that transformed My Chemical Romance from being just a band that write great songs to a global phenomenon.
In an era where artists are concerned by the constraints of their scene or what their fanbase expect from them, My Chemical Romance embraced a gallant and undaunted approach across all aspects of being in a band.
Their image changed drastically as they shifted from the vampire-punk guise of Three Cheers... to a look that amalgamated the gothic chic of Tim Burton and the military look of Sgt. Pepper; a look that was copied the world over to the point that you couldn’t walk down your local high street without seeing a representative of The Black Parade. Gerard Way’s hair was bleached blond to give the appearance of a sick patient receiving chemotherapy, which fitted perfectly into the conceptual narrative of the album itself.
The story surrounds the afterlife of a character named ‘The Patient’ and how, after his death, he is whisked back to the biggest event of his life, in this case The Black Parade (visually depicted beautifully by Samuel Bayer in the video for Welcome To The Black Parade – see below for more on that). It harks back to the epic storytelling of Pink Floyd’s masterpiece The Wall and the chimeric, otherworldly excellence of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.
Despite the high concept, however, it was musically that My Chemical Romance made their gutsiest leaps of all.
From the obvious influence of Queen to more left-field leanings like the anarchic swing of House Of Wolves and the appearance of Liza Minnelli on Mama, it was a visionary move that put them continents ahead of their peers. The balladry on I Don’t Love You and the spectacularly melancholic Cancer remain truly moving, This Is How I Disappear and Dead! are as propulsive and powerful as they are expansive and experimental, and Welcome To The Black Parade – a Number One single in the UK, no less – contains more ideas in one magnum opus than most bands manage in a career. Hell, there really isn’t a moment on the whole album that isn’t captivating.
It's worth talking about that Number One single for a second here. When you think about the endless realms of mindless diarrhoea that occupy the Number One slot on the UK singles chart, it’s miraculous that a song as unique and timeless as Welcome To The Black Parade reached the pop music summit – a fact made slightly more heroic by knocking the über-shit Razorlight from the top spot.
Opening with a delicate piano line, subtle leads and a military drumbeat before giving way to the greatest lead Brian May never wrote, Welcome To The Black Parade is a song that encompasses everything that’s great about MCR. Pacey and punk rock with the sharpest of teeth, it has a flamboyant yet passionate and sincere vocal showing from Gerard Way. The song’s bells and whistles include a spectacular horn section and, vitally, a glamour that eluded every single one of their counterparts. It was the anthem of a generation and the closest thing modern rock has had to the sonic bombast and unpredictability of Bohemian Rhapsody.
The lyrical couplets throughout the album are something else. From the defiance of ‘I’m going to show my scars’ on WTTBP to the powerful ‘I am not afraid to keep on living/I am not afraid to walk this world alone’ on Famous Last Words, Gerard empowered the outsider and galvanized personal strength and courage to overcome the trials of life. It was a theme embraced by an entire generation and that was hammered home further in their forthcoming rally against the misguided Daily Mail.
The Black Parade became much more than just an album. It became a way of life that changed the cultural landscape of the world. Fashion, public psyche and mainstream understanding of alternative culture were altered forever but, despite all of this, the legacy of The Black Parade will always be the outstanding music.
The Black Parade: The videos
Welcome To The Black Parade
Perfectly visualising the overall narrative of The Black Parade album, it’s a video masterclass that resembles the majesty of The Smashing Pumpkins’ iconic Tonight Tonight clip. The band look like gothic superheroes atop a parade float, the gathered throng’s Victorian appearance and Voorhees-esque masks are unforgettable and the exploits of The Patient, Mother War, Fear and Regret are acted out before your eyes. The level of detail and scale of the video has more in common with a Hollywood epic than it does the average music promo, with the stunning gothic-noir costume designs coming courtesy of Oscar-winning long-time Tim Burton collaborator, Colleen Atwood, with superb, elegant direction from Sam Bayer.
Famous Last Words
Unquestionably MCR’s darkest video ever, it depicts the downfall of the parade in the WTTBP video, with the float the band rode on fire. They’re surrounded by raging flames, and the performance from the members of MCR is both sinister and rabid. The fire would land Bob Bryar in hospital with second and third-degree burns on his legs (and later gangrene), and Gerard with a torn muscle in his leg from Frank tackling him on set. It was the last time MCR used Sam Bayer as a video director. Perhaps they knew he was going on to direct the woeful 2010 A Nightmare On Elm Street remake...
I Don’t Love You
Set entirely in black and white, the I Don’t Love You video is best defined by a striking performance from Gerard Way. Spent mainly in close-up, it’s this gut-wrenching, heart-tugging visual of the frontman poring over his yearning lyrics that steals the show from a storyline surrounding two lovers’ eventual split beneath falling leaves and a bare, crooked-branched tree, and the group’s exploding instruments. The video also saw the band appearing out of their Black Parade uniform for the first time on the album run, alongside the return of Three Cheers... era director Marc Webb and a comeback for Gerard’s jet-black hair.
Teenagers pumping the air in unison, cheerleaders donning gas masks while sexually and violently wielding batons, and a full-scale riot. My Chemical Romance are never going to be a band that just do a performance video in a field. Going along with the theme of the song’s lyrics, the members of the band are objectified to the point of not being treated as human and are attacked without any regard for their safety at the video’s climax. Tellingly, again using their success for the greater good, the video ends with an endorsement for National Save, a US organisation that aims to unite all students against acts of violence.