We have for some time, suspected that My Chemical Romance’s musical influences were much more than guitar riffs ridden with teen angst and emotional instability. From moments hinted on Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge to the rather bombastic leadoff single from The Black Parade, it would seem that the members of the band spent as much time listening to Aerosmith, David Bowie and Queen as they did their punk rock. Any doubt can be put to rest on the band’s foray away from their past- their terrifically outlandish, operatic rock theatre Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys.
As the title would imply, the band have not let go of their conceptual theatrics. Their earliest incarnations (their overlooked debut I Bought You Bullets) had already envisioned Bonnie & Clyde narratives, and their latest is probably the most adept telling of the vast, graphic novel universe the members of the band spend much of their creative time in. Danger Days, about the lives of these so-called Killjoys, is glittering dance-infused rock that parlays its love of synthesizers and melody into the best Ziggy Stardust-penned-Steven Tyler-sung songs done with an added sprinkling of Freddie Mercury bravado.
The Killjoys are battling the Draculoids and Better Living Industries, and this galactic-themed conflict unfolds by way of anthemic, call-to-arms rock (“Na Na Na”), angular textures (“Party Poison”), dance-tinged (“Planetary GO!”) pieces that all build up to the stadium-sized side of the rock palette. Songs like “The Only Hope For Me Is You”, “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” and “Summertime” all sound like a Liv Tyler/Alicia Silverstone starring music video, cut from the same mold as the Three Cheers track “The Ghost of You”. Gerard Way’s croon is now far more refined, less angry, and these mid-paced songs benefit from the new vibrant tone. It makes the band come across as far less frenzied than they did on tracks like “Thank You For the Venom” and “Cemetery Drive”, and depending on who you ask, is the band cultivating a new sense of finesse.
The tracks are interlaced with the radio broadcast from the album’s “host”, a Dr. Death Defying, narrated very much like the 1979 film The Warriors. And like the film, Danger Days is a colorful climax of character and weirdly wonderful imagination. Most of it is seamless, but there are a few glaring missteps. “Na Na Na”, while musically sound, does come across as more of a throw away single and tracks like “DESTROYA” and “Vampire Money” do not fit the mold of a band forging new ground. The formatting of these song titles (“S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W”?) begs a lot questions too, less a mature simplicity and more of a bored high teenager scribbling in their notebook. Most notably, the inclusion of the “Star-Spangled Banner” done by marching band in “Goodnite, Dr. Death” is inexcusable.
Critics have taken much time to exercise their displeasure in My Chemical Romance’s musical identity in the past. It’s easy to hate something so “blatantly emo” and to cast a net over larger social issues by pointing the finger at tangible targets. But My Chemical Romance have never once wavered from being themselves. So what happens now when the band’s acclaim is more deserving than ever? When we all realize that Danger Days is the sound of a band finally shedding the burden of an entire genre, we will see that My Chemical Romance have been having the last laugh for a very long time.
And as Way closes the chapter of their past in the very apt “The Kids From Yesterday”, singing with great reflection;
“You only live forever in the lights you make / When we were young, we used to say / That you only hear the music when your heart begins to break / Now we are the kids from yesterday”
It is the final salute in what sounds like, and feels like, an honest turning of the page. And if you do in fact, “live forever in the lights you make”, then their lights, for now, shine the brightest. (Reprise / Warner Bros.)