Good concept albums are hard to come by these days. It’s even more difficult to find ones that can stand as great albums, without the concept.
Music fans should give thanks to My Chemical Romance for continuing the concept album tradition and crafting not just a fascinating concept, but a truly outstanding record.
Those who doubt MCR’s staying power in the rock scene should give a listen to the band’s fourth album, “Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys,” released Nov. 22. This is a record that bands 20 years from now will say influenced them.
In just six years, MCR has become the game changer in rock. Starting out during the emo wave of the early 2000s, the band crafted songs that fit the melodramatic genre. It was with its second album, “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge,” that the band found mainstream success. Singles such as “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” and “Helena” hit home with the Warped Tour generation.
“The Black Parade,” MCR’s 2006 album, was a departure from the emo sound of “Three Cheers.” “The Black Parade” was a rock opera, telling the story of “The Patient” and his death. Live performances supporting this album were theatrical, with the band donning outfits similar to those of a marching band.
After “The Black Parade,” drummer Bob Bryar left and the band scrapped an entire album’s worth of material. The future looked bleak as the group was ready to call it quits. But the band got back to work and we should all be glad.
With “Danger Days,” the band has created another concept album, this time following a group of renegades – the titular Killjoys – who are battling Better Living Industries, an oppressive corporation in 2019 California. The band – vocalist Gerard Way, guitarists Ray Toro and Frank Iero and bassist Mikey Way – have taken on alter-egos to portray the Killjoys, adding to the depth of the concept.
The album’s first single “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)” is just as fun as its nonsensical title. The rallying cry of “Killjoys, make some noise” kicks off the song, and the blistering pace never lets up. Shred master Toro gives the song a face-burning guitar solo that is unmatched. It’s a straight up, balls-to-the-wall rock romp.
“Bulletproof Heart” ushers in a new sound for MCR, a slicker, synthed-up version of the group. Sparking synthesizers create a space-age sound as Way croons that “Gravity don’t mean that much to me.” But then the synths drop out and the chugging riff comes in, further blasting the song into the stratosphere.
MCR’s credit the group with saving their lives. “SING” is another track that will keep fans alive, as Way says, “You’ve got to see what tomorrow brings.” This is a drive-fast, roll-the-windows-down, sing-along-until-you’re-hoarse song that only MCR is capable of earnestly creating. Any other group would make the lyrics – especially the chorus of “Sing it for the boys, sing it for the girls … sing it for the world” – ring fake.
Way sounds like he’s submerged on “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W,” the album’s resident thrust-your-lighter-in-the-air tune. The album’s sci-fi imagery reaches its high point here: “Blow a kiss at the methane skies.” The world may be falling apart, but there’s hope as “we’re all in love tonight.”
On “Destroya,” Way spits out the lyrics like venom; his sneer is audible. The tribal drums push the band’s sound further than ever. “Against the sun, we’re the enemy” the gang vocals tell listeners as the drums and guitars crash.
The album’s closer “Vampire Money” is an ode to selling out. It’s a reaction to the band being asked to do a song for the film “New Moon,” part of the “Twilight” franchise. The band turned down the offer and call-out the bands who ended up taking the “vampire money,” as the title implies. It’s a dirty little punk track that fittingly closes the album.
The best track on “Danger Days” is “Planetary (GO!),” a raucous, four-on-the-floor stomper.
It’s like three awesome songs in one: the verses have a punk swagger, the chorus is dance-rock and the bridge pulls influence from The Cars. “If my velocity starts to make you sweat, then just don’t let go,” Way sings as synths laserbeam behind him. It’s easy to imagine a floor of fans agreeing with Way, who “can’t stop now because I’m dancing.”
This is an album full of contradictions. The songs are big yet intimate, retro and futuristic at the same time. But everything comes together to make “Danger Days” the best rock record of this year. MCR wears near-implosion well.