'The Black Parade': Not Going Gently Into That Good Night

My Chemical Romance's third and best release,
My Chemical Romance's third and best release, "The Black Parade," is a concept album about a man who's dying. (By Chapman Baehler)
By Allison Stewart
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The pop-operatic concept album "The Black Parade," the third and most remarkable release from My Chemical Romance, is phantasmagorical high-wire act. It ensures that never again will the band be described simply as emo or confused with Panic! At the Disco.

"The Black Parade" is a look at the last days of a dying young man, as he gets his affairs in order, scolds the non-dying and alternately embraces and rues his fate. It's also a concept album that's a mash note to other concept albums: "Parade" borrows its producer and aesthetic from Green Day's "American Idiot," its sense of gloomy grandeur from Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and its irrational exuberance from "Sgt. Pepper."

My Chemical Romance, a New Jersey quintet that has released two other perfectly appealing and reasonably successful goth/emo/punk-pop studio discs since its 2001 inception, supervises the endeavor with crisp confidence. The band's concept -- Death be not, like, proud -- may not be revolutionary, but the band bends to its task with the earnestness of philosophy majors and the energy of Dr. Kevorkian, the last human in memory to approach the topic with such enthusiasm.

"The Black Parade" is a dadaesque assault on the senses, a blitzkrieg of la-la-la choruses, razored hooks and crack musical marksmanship that's flush with strings and pianos. The opening track, "The End," serves up Pogues-like backing vocals, the steady blip of a life-support machine and plenty of bombast; "Teenagers" is a creepy, boisterous singalong, "West Side Story" meets "A Clockwork Orange"; "Mama" begins with a Last Days of the Weimar Republic-style flourish that suggests "Cabaret," grinds into a more conventional metal-pop dirge, spins into semi-hard-core and ends in a cameo from Liza Minnelli, who should either fire her agent or give him a bonus.

The lead single, "Welcome to the Black Parade," is a Queen homage that neatly ties together, but doesn't belabor, the album's themes of death, alienation and, you know, death. Thanks to a tricky key couplet ("Will you be the savior of the broken, the beaten and the damned?"), it's only one or two Messiah references away from evoking the Who's "Tommy" a bit too closely.

The best tracks have a more muted power: "I Don't Love You" is a poppy, relatively uncomplicated track Dashboard Confessional might have done; "Cancer," with singer Gerard Way's vocals layered over spartan piano, is affecting and bizarre, a death rattle disguised as a power ballad.

"Parade" wields its influences like a club. It's shot through with references to '70s glam rock, '80s variations on '70s glam rock, and outsize antecedents such as Faith No More and Mother Love Bone. The great, frenetic "House of Wolves" seems to have wandered in from an unreleased Guns N' Roses album, though that's not necessarily a compliment. If Guns N' Roses' long-delayed "Chinese Democracy" ever does get released, it's a safe bet it won't contain anything half this good.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Mama," "I Don't Love You," "House of Wolves"

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