The first member of My Chemical Romance to emerge following the band’s split in 2013 was always likely to be Frank Iero. While in the band, his voice may not have been the loudest – singer Gerard Way’s vision and guitarist Ray Toro’s technicality dominated there – but he was nonetheless one of the more relentlessly creative.
It was he who, following the exhausting but successful Black Parade period, dealt with tour burnout by going back on the road while the rest of the band contemplated whether they still wanted to play music at all. It was he, too, who during an attack of writer’s block that afflicted the band during the making of Black Parade was the only member to write new music (the jungle-blues stomp of House Of Wolves). It would be easy to assume that he deals with setbacks, problems and more traumatic issues – such as the break-up of his band – by retreating into music.
But that would be to assume wrong: because if you ask Iero, he denies it. Instead, he says, making music is as natural to him as breathing or eating. It’s why, since My Chemical Romance’s split, he has released a clutch of solo singles, released the antagonistic elctro-hardcore of Death Spells, collaborated with James Dewees on his Reggie And The Full Effect record and now put together what is his first official solo project under his own name.
Stomachaches was largely pieced together in the basement of his New Jersey home and, in the best possible way, it sounds like it. It hums and clicks and whistles and whirrs. Noises creep in that weren’t intended, unbidden sounds create a dense miasma of noise. At times there’s something reminiscent of the wall of feedback of Jesus And The Mary Chain, but Iero’s howl comes pin-pricked with melodies. The snappily titled .she’s the prettiest girl at the party and she can prove it with a solid right hook. borrows the beat from Jesus And The Mary Chain’s Just Like Honey (courtesy of ex-My Chemical Romance drummer Jarrod Alexander), but as Iero’s voice crackles and broods over the top, he delivers something mournful and regretful alongside it that brings something starkly human to the crashing guitars.
The album opens with the sort of out-and-out punk banger that goes to show that Iero was always the most in thrall to hardcore in My Chemical Romance, and perhaps the least willing to let it go as others in the band attempted to move on. Which is far from a bad thing. _.all i want is nothing. _is a two-minute burst of guitar, with Iero’s distorted vocals delivering a grabbily simple and instant melody. The record swings back to those kind of punk sounds sporadically: .joyriding. includes electronic beats, but has about it a similar feel of chaos infused through a bubble-gum punk filter. .neverenders. is thrashy, trashy and great, while .smoke rings. is aggressive and angry, a blast of liberating riffs.
On stomachaches, Iero is writing about his own physical anguish – he has been plagued by ill health from a young age, hence the title of the album – but also he’s singing about his friends, about their lives and about his. All of it sounds uneasy, and there’s a sense of pain and regret that runs throughout. He’s at his most naked on .stage 4 fear of trying., singing alone with a rich, but crackling electric guitar for company, his voice yearning and breaking touchingly.
Those looking for insight into the latter days of My Chemical Romance will be disappointed, but he does touch on the early days of the band in .blood infections., in which he details the record company sharks that surrounded them and the subsequent nerves they felt. It’s on songs like this that a different Iero emerges, one who veers from the instant catharsis of punk guitars and into a more thoughtful, imaginative area. .guilttripping, and .she’s the prettiest girl…, all fall into the category. But .weighted. is the most successful, Iero’s vocals surge into the red but soar over sparse bass and screeching guitar to give an atmosphere of emptiness and passion alongside the best melody on the record.
There’s an overriding feeling, when listening to stomachaches of a man unburdening himself. It’s lo-fi and growling, but that somehow adds to its naked immediacy. These sound like songs written and then recorded in a rush of blood, before the feeling that sparked their creation can be eased or allayed. As such, it’s an emotional listen and more of a window into Iero’s mind than any of the mainstream releases he has been involved in before. Importantly, though, it’s not just a splurge. These may be raw thoughts, but they come packed within melodies that make them accessible and songs that are short and sharp, but also deep and developed. It’s the sound of a man moving on, but looking at the past darkly too.