It’s easy to forget the incredible impact that My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade had when it came out in 2006. I was 10 years old at the time – a bit too young for the record, and, like most kids my age I didn’t really get into it until late middle school when I hungered for modern music that built upon the classic rock I had become obsessed with. Billed as a “modern rock opera” my Pink Floyd addled brain immediately latched on to the potential of this record. Right as the first song – The End – kicked off (‘How edgy!’ I thought ‘What kind of genius artist would start their record with a song called The End? My mom will never understand this!’) I knew I was in for something special.
What we need to remember is that The Black Parade was largely successful because it fell at just the right moment in the culture for it to work. With the last dregs of the nineties swept away, the trophy generation starting to reach adolescence and rock and roll seemingly ‘back’ it fit the teenage zeitgeist to have a record that served as the artistic peak of these achievements. 2006 was also near the height of Emo culture which grew after the post-Columbine stigmatization of Goths. Essentially, The Black Parade stands as the obvious culmination of years of angst and frustration – this was supposed to be the ultimate answer, operatic and rebellious music that young people connected to and made them feel important.
It’s crucial to remember that part of the appeal of The Black Parade is that it’s the kind of music that kids think is meant for adults. I remember being a middle schooler and hearing the tortured soldier sampled in the track Sleep and thinking “Wow this is deep!” On top of that, there actually were a lot of 20 somethings who loved this record. My Chemical Romance’s massive debut I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love had made quite the splash and there were certainly a lot of people who maintained an interest in the band after their adolescence.
Now, I realize that it may sound like I’m trying to trivialize a record that many still view (quite rightly) as a classic. But I think it’s important to remember, the thing that has people still talking about The Black Parade nine years on is the sheer quality of the songwriting. Sure, rock was a big deal in 2006, but it definitely wasn’t the force it had been in the 60’s and 70’s. The fact that My Chemical Romance were able to get four charting singles off this album means that, if nothing else, they were great songwriters for their time and place. Seriously, My Chemical Romance is perhaps the only band in history who wrote riffs that would work on a groove metal album appropriate for 13 year old girls. There is something rather transcendent about these songs too, I’m sitting here as a kid who’s done nothing but listen to new music every day for the last 5 years and I’m still totally in love with The Black Parade.
A part of this is due to the orchestral nature of the music. The cry of “To carry on” on Welcome To The Black Parade fits underneath layers of synth and guitar tinted production. Meanwhile the occasional swearing (Perhaps most notably the use of the word ‘fuck’ in the bonus track Blood) helps to make the album sound dangerous and – once again – grown up. There is a distinctly epic vibe that My Chemical Romance seek to communicate with this record and it gives the entire thing a rather distinct flavor. The sense of grandeur that defines The Black Parade is hard to emulate – this is more than just a product of epic sounding production. It’s the compositional mastery of this record that makes it so fascinating to us, you find yourself lost in it and it’s hard not to fall in love with what they’ve done here. Seriously, how is a lonely teenager not supposed to embrace lines like “I am not afraid to keep on living, I am not afraid to walk this world alone”? It’s essentially custom made for the profound desperation that can only be found in suburban American culture. On top of that you have the bands anthem, Teenagers – perhaps the most punk rock song on the record. It makes youth feel as if they are a part of something greater to themselves – only serving to make the album even more entrancing to adolescents.
Contributing to the grandeur of the record is the lyrical content. These songs speak to typical teenage struggles – yet Gerard Way finds it in himself to couch them in a greater borderline cinematic context, one that makes the listener feel grown up and struggling with adult problems. The repeated refrains that define this record all seem to hint at both incredible trials but also hope. What better way to speak to depressed kids who never properly learned to socialize and who were always told they were the best at everything? Listening to The Black Parade even now as a jaded music critic, I can’t help but feel that I am a part of something greater and have to carry on with the hope of better days. The magic of this record is that it captures the entire cultural zeitgeist in just thirteen songs (As a middle schooler I thought that they arbitrarily picked thirteen to maximize edginess) and through that they have managed to become a rather unique cultural touchstone, one that nearly everyone currently between the ages of 16 to 25 can connect with.
It’s kind of weird then that nowadays The Black Parade is largely viewed as a nostalgia record. I mean, it makes sense considering the previous mentioned role in the culture but it also guided a generation of teenagers through a very weird and tough time in their lives. I think part of the issue is that now we look at what we think of as ‘typical MCR fans’ and associate them with the false-Goth poser-supporting monument that Hot Topic has become. I feel like in the dearth of good rock music My Chemical Romance have suffered a death by association with bands like A Day To Remember and We Came As Romans. The whole ‘swoopy hair’ look seems pretty silly now too – especially after the whole crabcore …thing… with artists such as Attack! Attack! and Chunk! No Captain Chunk (Do all crabcore bands need unnecessary punctuation?) who took that entire look to its logical extreme. Suffice to say – I don’t imagine the band wanted this record to end its life as music college freshmen listen to in order to reminisce about 8th grade.
I think though that we need to realize what this record means for the larger context – not just ‘scene’ music. My Chemical Romance were a band that helped a lot of young people get deeper into rock and start listening to albums in their entirety. While most fans may have matured past their sound, the ideas introduced by The Black Parade remain constant. After all – much of the lyrical content of this record essentially hearkens to Romantic period notions in high art music and these topics are still explored in a lot of music today. What The Black Parade did that is truly remarkable is that it made thousands of young people realize the power that art can have. Sure the bands look was silly and sure it can be perceived as angsty but suddenly masses of lost teens were able to get a look into the world of punk rock with this pop coated masterpiece, and some of them chose to dig deeper. It proved that music was still relevant to the youth, and that young people should be going out and creating music, even in a world where music piracy was rampant. Perhaps things weren’t quite as dire as I’m suggesting, but it’s impossible to deny that The Black Parade was a crucial shot in the arm to a flagging music industry.
Today electronic music is back on the rise and modern thirteen year olds are saying things like “I wish I was a teen during the mid to late 2000’s when real music was coming out!” Even as someone who lived through it – it seems hard to believe that just ten years ago a fairly heavy rock record that even featured a few screams was able to score a number one single. I think that had My Chemical Romance continued they could have very well been the next Led Zeppelin – hell they almost made it. Enter any Hot Topic and you can just about see the high water line when smart rock and roll almost wholly re-entered the mainstream. My Chemical Romance stand as proof that rock bands can still dominate the world in the 21st century. Only time will tell if any band can any band learn from My Chemical Romance and profit off the cultural zeitgeist and create the same sort of transcendent rock record that reaches out to the lost and forgotten to change the world.