When discussing the best mainstream rock bands of the 2000s, the usual suspects emerge. Green Day. Foo Fighters. The White Stripes. System of a Down. The Killers. And so on and so forth. This makes sense, as all of these bands are worthy candidates. Some are still selling out arenas and festivals to this day.
One band decidedly not routinely mentioned alongside those contemporaries is My Chemical Romance, and I suppose this is fair. The band received good but not great radio play and was often (unfairly) lumped in alongside fellow screamo bands like The Used and Thrice.
To be fair, My Chemical Romance only released four proper studio albums during its decade-long run; the band broke up in 2013. Its debut was just okay, and two others were good though nothing too special. The other record, however, should get MCR into that aforementioned conversation, if only because that other record may very well be the best mainstream rock record of the decade.
The Black Parade was released 11 years ago this month (a 10th-anniversary edition with demos and live footage was released last year). It didn’t debut at No. 1 on the charts, though it did reach the runner-up spot. It received good reviews but nothing praising it as a classic. Hell, it didn’t even go down as MCR’s best-selling album. And, yet, The Black Parade is about as perfect a concept rock record as you’ll find, alongside other 2000s-era contenders like Green Day’s American Idiot and Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs.
Ah, yes, the concept record, when bands go all-in on telling a story via a cohesive start-to-finish approach. Some – David Bowie on a few occasions, The Who, Green Day the first time – struck gold with this tactic. Others – Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines, Green Day the second time – fell flat. The Black Parade most certainly aligned with the former.
For starters, front man Gerard Way and his MCR bandmates committed themselves to the rock opera, not only musically, but onstage. While touring in support of The Black Parade – which they played in its entirety, from start to finish – Way would emerge from a coffin before launching into a song called, “Dead!” And therein lay the beauty of The Black Parade, a perfect record with a fairly novel concept.
The Black Parade centers on a person dying of cancer; this person is known as “the patient.” The album tells not only the tale of his death, but looks back on his life and even charts his course in the afterlife. Way and company were not subtle in their approach, as The Black Parade features song titles like the aforementioned “Dead!,” “Welcome to the Black Parade,” “Cancer” and “Famous Last Words.”
Of course, going all-in on a concept is all well and good, unless the music accompanying said concept weighs down the storyline. The Black Parade did anything but. The album is chock-full of tracks, all of which differ in tone. Slow burns like “Cancer” and “The End” add poignancy. Up-tempo tracks like “The Sharpest Lives” and “Teenagers” remind listeners that they’re jamming to a rock record. Others, particularly “Famous Last Words” and “Disenchanted,” are simply pitch-perfect pop-rock songs.
There isn’t a weak track on the 14-song playlist, though hidden track “Blood” feels unnecessary in hindsight. So well-received was The Black Parade by casual and diehard fans alike, MCR members later admitted it almost had a counterproductive effect on the band. They spent millions recording The Black Parade’s follow-up, 2010’s Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, scrapping numerous songs when the band was unhappy with the material. Per front man Way, there’s a reason MCR struggled to move past its concept classic – namely, because the band wasn’t really supposed to exist after The Black Parade.
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“By the time I got to the third album, which didn't have a name, I felt like that was the end,” Way told NME in 2014. “Basically the time spent after The Black Parade was me fighting against that instinct, fighting against myself. The end of The Black Parade felt like a very natural end. To go beyond that felt like betraying some sort of artistic command that I had within myself."
That probably explains why Way and his former bandmates have tempered fans’ hopes for an MCR reunion. Its members have moved on to other projects, and Way has stayed busy via art, writing and by releasing one hell of a solo record, 2014’s Hesitant Alien. So whether Way and crew reunite at some point – either to record new material or simply to cash in on a victory lap – is anyone’s guess.
And, at this point, it’s almost inconsequential. Very few bands record a truly great record, something MCR achieved with room to spare. The Black Parade is rock opera done right, storytelling tailor-made for its accompanying backing tracks. Its choruses are infectious, its message clear – this is an album that’s impossible to forget. If only most people cared to remember.