Review Summary: A surprisingly triumphant marriage of classic rock sensibilities with the group's trademark knack for great pop songs, The Black Parade is a wonderfully consistent album that continues to delight, even five years on.
There's a kind of taboo that music 'elitists' such as ourselves here on Sputnik invariably feel shaping our opinions when we hear bands such as Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco and, indeed, My Chemical Romance, mentioned. And I have to admit, my feeling of superiority to 'that sort of music' was only strengthened when I heard their previous hits such as 'I'm Not Okay' and the dirge-like, emotastic 'Helena,' which did absolutely nothing to me. It was with considerable trepidation, then, that I purchases The Black Parade, expecting, at best, a decent collection of pop punk anthems. So when I discovered a glorious homage to classic rock married with the band's undeniable ability for writing catchy choruses, I was extremely pleasantly surprised.
The first track of the album, The End (MCR probably thought that this title already made them cleverer than your average pop band) starts unexpectedly, with some pleasant, if uninspiring, acoustic guitar heralding the record's start, and when singer Gerard Way joins in with his unmistakably petulant enunciation, it sounds like it could all be business as usual for the band. But something peculiar happens about halfway through this short introduction; Brian May style guitars chime in with some brilliant harmonised, triumphant lead lines that sound like they've been ripped straight out of a 70s rock opera, and the jaunty piano pays it's dues to the theatrical nature which will permeate the rest of the album. When the opener seamlessly transitions into the second track, Dead!, and a frenetic, freewheeling guitar solo kicks things off again, you'd be forgiven for thinking that MCR were practically the saviours of modern music.
Whilst I obviously wouldn't go anywhere near that far, there really is something resolutely joyful about the way that The Black Parade careers around, making pit stops at every hallmark of one of music's most, for lack of a less philistine description, fun eras. The fact that it's a pseudo-concept album about the titular Black Parade only adds to the retro feel, as Way's lyrics prove to have unusual depth compared to the band's previous output, telling a constantly unfolding narrative, with some occasional digressions in the form of the anti-youth romp Teenagers and the tragic, almost dirge-like Cancer. There's enough variety in both lyrical and musical tone in The Black Parade to ensure that things never begin to stagnate, and that's impressive for a band whose music was previously, let's admit it, incredibly limited.
The most impressive thing about The Black Parade is, to me, the quantum leap in musical ability of the musicians in the band compared to their last album. I'm not saying that I value technical ability above good singer-songwriter at all (otherwise I would still enjoy Dream Theater) but it's really quite something to hear the complicated chord progressions and lead runs taking place in some of the songs here. Disenchanted is a key example of this; sure, the riff is a cheesy and somewhat generic acoustic thing revolving around a simple D chord, and the chorus doesn't break any chord progression conventions at all, but the way in which MCR lead the listener on through the song's various segments, with a genuinely gorgeous interlude before the final chorus placed perfectly, makes it hard not to be wowed by the maturity and unpretentious (despite the pretentiousness of the actual concept itself) way in which the band piece the songs together, perfectly.
By the end of the last (proper) song Famous Last Words, another triumph of keen pop hooks combined with some great riffs which almost border on hard rock, I was left quite astonished at how complete, and impressive, a package MCR released here. Every song feels like it's in its right place on the album, and the pacing is such as that you're never waiting for one song to end or needing to skip any duds. The Black Parade might be the brainchild some typical emo kids and full of sad songs but, unlike the lyrics of Disenchanted might suggest, they have a lot of interesting things to say in them.