Mainstream success makes some (read: most) music fans foam at the mouth. It has become synonymous with the kind of money-grubbing created by U.S. culture that we, hep cats, curse in between secret sips of our caramel macchiatos at that one chain, you know the one with money in its name. And while we’re getting a caffeinated cocktease from the corporate pigs that we swear we’ll make bacon out of … next time, the mom and pop coffee shop is boarding up its windows and all of the cultural landmarks that make our neighborhoods unique are being turned into hallowed halls of greed. You can’t confess your sins there, but the cash register clerics can help you commit them.
Point is, we’re all sell outs.1 And since we are all sell outs2, it is imperative that we put our criticism of art into perspective. I believe an artist can still be respected even if they might need to compromise their integrity slightly to make the green necessary to allow them to create art.3 That being said, the case of My Chemical Romance (MCR) is an interesting one.
I’ve always enjoyed their music. Maybe this was mostly because they struck a chord with me at a pivotal age. You never forget the songs you loved most in high school. Your emotions are running haywire. You’re falling in love with anything that has genitalia. Everything is your personal soundtrack. And rock ‘n’ roll was invented to incite that kind of “fire-in-your-loins”4 feeling that you can only get otherwise from sneaking out of your house and risking blindness by getting drunk off of the Devil’s Spring your best friend’s older brother left in his sock drawer.
In 10th grade, I was Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. I mean, I didn’t dress the part.5 But I’ll be damned if I didn’t know every word on that record by heart and obsess over it. That was my band. That was my record. And even though 1.7 million other people bought it, it didn’t matter. I was even a huge supporter of the glam-infused rock opera record they put out when I entered college, The Black Parade. My penchant for all things David Bowie and Marc Bolan was at an all-time high.
Something had changed though. MCR had lost me. They still sold 1.6 million copies of that record but something wasn’t there.
Fortunately, I can say without a doubt that they are back with a vengeance. By combining a comic book concept, toning down their Queen worship and remembering that rock ‘n’ roll can be fun, they’ve sucked me in again. This is what I mean when I say a band can take the dough and still have integrity. With a major label behind them, they’ve managed to create Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, an album about a near post-apocalyptic world controlled by the corrupt Better Living Industries corporation and the four men brave enough to party hard enough and fire fast enough to save it or die trying.
Does it sound ridiculous? Silly? Stupid even? Sure. But tell someone the plot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles6 who has never heard of them, they’ll think you’re a drug addict.
Before the album came out, Gerard Way said they would be looking to the Stooges7 for inspiration on this one. Those are pretty big words and aside from a couple of basic blues progressions and aping the words “I’m a streetwalking cheetah” from the Stooges’s “Search and Destroy” they fall pretty short of any comparison. What they end up with is an album that sounds like Three Cheers got drunk with Lady Gaga and their bastard child grew up in Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.”8
Songs like “Na Na Na” and “Party Poison” ooze with an exuberance that wasn’t felt on the last record. Loud, fast guitars and Way’s practically trademark snarl make these songs fun and arguably more poppy than anything else the band has ever put out.
But is this record really poppier? I don’t think so. Do these guys know how to write a hook? Hell yeah. Even the slower songs like “SING” and “Bulletproof Heart” feature big hooky choruses albeit a little on the cheesy side. However, if you took all of the screaming and post-hardcore style breakdowns out of Three Cheers, it would probably be a toss up between which album is catchier.
Another aspect that really grabbed me about this album was its ability to envelop you. As soon as you listen to it you have entered the KillJoys’ world. A DJ narrator much like the DJ in “The Warriors,” guides you through the album but the difference between the Killjoys and the Warriors is that while the Warriors had a mission, the Killjoys are shooting guns and blowing stuff up just to have fun.
Two of the songs already have videos and they both allow the listener to see the entire vision of this record. Comic book scribe (or god, use whichever you prefer) Grant Morrison plays the devious villain, and there are guns and costumes and wastelands.9 The comic book fan in me gets a little too excited.
This is definitely the lightest fare of all the MCR albums out there and that tone suits it perfectly. This album plays like a cult B-movie sci-fi hit, there are some really exceedingly good things about it10 and some incredibly cringe worthy ones.11 This’ll be the kind of album you’ll probably forget about in six months but every time you dig it out, you get wrapped right back up into its story.
Danger Days will be remembered as more than an album. It will be a comic book soon. It will be a series of short films. It will serve as a reminder that just because a million other people like the same band as you, it doesn’t make your connection to them any less personal or any less important. And money is not always an inhibitor of art. In the right hands, it can also enable it.
1: Except me, I get my coffee, milk and one sugar, from Ahmed on the corner of 6th and 50th. Dude makes a mean cup, but his chocolate chip muffins are shit. At least my $3 was a fair trade.
2: Fine, I’ll admit, even me.
3: Doors fans, I don’t want to hear it. Yeah, I know. “Jim Morrison never sold his songs.” He also died before he became burned-out junkie enough to need to. But he also died of an overdose so maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he is the patron saint of leather pants and artistic integrity.
4: Read: not crabs.
5: You know, that whole Hot Topic-chic androgynous look. I didn’t even have a cool asymmetrical haircut. Catholic school will limit your choices.
6: The comics, movies or TV show. It doesn’t matter. Baby turtles mutated by a wayward canister of ooze trained to be ninjas by a Japanese rat in the sewers of New York. Oh, and one of their villains is a brain who lives inside of the stomach of a larger body and uses joy sticks to control it. You’re right. This isn’t ridiculous.
7: The band. Not the comedians.