Every great band has one. A record that splits a once unified fanbase into two or more directions, creating a word cloud of conflicting opinions that typically leave the band as torn and confused as their fanbase. Whether it is the result of a wild change in artistic direction, a perceived lack of progression, a controversial change of lineup, a production choice, an unpopular collaboration, or any number of factors within or outside of the artist’s control, it all amounts to the same thing; a divisive record.
How an artist responds to this has been the make or break point of many careers, many artists push forward and reach new heights, surviving long enough to see their divisive record become heralded in retrospect. Other artists backpedal into more familiar sounds and hope that the audience will accept them back, to varying levels of success. Other artists don’t survive long enough to find out. Whatever the fallout for the artist, the records remain, untouched, in all of their perceived imperfection.
‘In Defence Of’, a new editorial series by Music Feeds, gives these divisive albums a second chance at making a good first impression. Join us as we give some of music’s most infamous divisive albums a fighting chance, by revisiting and reappraising them, far, far away from the hot takes and cultural context of their creation.
In Defence Of…
Album: Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
Artist: My Chemical Romance
Released: November 22, 2010
Setting the Scene
When My Chemical Romance dropped their emo/glam-rock masterpiece The Black Parade on an unsuspecting world back in ‘06, they were already kind of a big deal. Their platinum-selling second album, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, home to MTV staples ‘Helena’ and ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’, positioning them alongside Panic! At The Disco, Fall Out Boy, The Used and Taking Back Sunday as the biggest of fish in the MySpace scene pond. By the time they got around to releasing 2010’s futuristic Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, they were one of the biggest bands in a now Facebook dominated world. Having sold over 4 million copies of The Black Parade, My Chemical Romance had morphed into a festival-headlining, stadium-touring, theatrical monolith.
They were no longer simply a band, but rather a genuine global pop-cultural phenomenon, complete with millions of adoring fans, countless copycats, stalkers and of course, a generation-defining anthem, their very own ‘Boh-emo-ian Rhapsody’, ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’. They also carried the burden of impossibly outsized expectations. A pressure that the band has admitted weighed quite heavily on them as they put together what would turn out to be their final studio album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys.
Danger Days: The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys
Released into the world at a time when a rapidly declining scene was looking for a familiar saviour, Danger Days: The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys delivered nothing of the sort.
As fans and industry alike looked for a continuation of The Black Parade, My Chemical Romance sort to kill it, delivering an at times unrecognizable, proto-punk inspired concept album that told the story of ‘The Killjoys’ a group of fictitious rebellious rogues living in a post-apocalyptic California in the year 2019. Fusing elements of proto-punk, garage, psych and glam into one futuristic soundscape, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is My Chemical Romance completely reimagined, sonically, thematically and aesthetically.
Upon release in November 2010, Danger Days was immediately divisive, with segments of the fanbase struggling to connect with ‘the new MCR’ that had been dropped into their lives. Critics, on the other hand, seemed to love it, with the majority of the world’s major rock publications praising the band for the scope of their vision and musicality, not to mention the confidence of taking such a gigantic artistic risk. Commercially, it sat somewhere between these reactions, selling over a million records, with singles ‘Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)’, ‘SING’ and ‘The Kids of Yesterday’ achieving moderate success, as the band’s ticket sales held steady.
In Defence Of Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
In 2020, with the benefit of hindsight and repeated listens, I’m more than comfortable planting my flag on the hillside of critical acclaim. Despite what some diehard fans of yesteryear might insist on telling you, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys fucking bops. It also sounds so much more at home in our current cultural and political climate than it did upon release, with the themes of the fictional narrative rather scarily attune with our reality. On the surface, it bears very little resemblance to either The Black Parade or Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and if you dig deep enough you’ll notice that it does share enough of that sonic DNA to remain identifiable as My Chemical Romance. Danger Days is the sound of My Chemical Romance having FUN. To listen to it with quality headphones on is to hear a band flexing their musical, artistic and conceptual muscles, till all of their veins show, pushing themselves to the brink as they set off on a fantastical adventure.
From the moment narrator DJ Dr. Death Defying introduces ‘the Killjoys’ and MCR launch into the proto-punk party of ridiculously named opener ‘Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)’, it is crystal clear that you’re in for an absolute riot of a time with Gerard and the boys. Burning with infectious energy, the track features everything that fans typically love about MCR, with Way’s unique vocal delivery leading the charge as his bandmates thrash away with reckless abandon. Featuring a chanty chorus, guitar solos and a cracking pace, ‘Na Na Na…’ kinda sounds like ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’ on party drugs and that’s a pretty wonderful thing.
‘Bulletproof Heart’ is a synth-driven, earworm of a pop-rock banger, that just begs you to shout it back at Gerard Way as you dance with your love at some post-apocalyptic nightclub, ‘SING’ has an equally pop-driven charm, with the Depeche Mode-channelling verses, perfectly offset by an expansive stadium rock chorus, the execution of which was so weirdly on-tend in 2010, it ended up featuring on Glee.
The industrial influence on the delightfully odd ‘Planetary (GO!)’ is a riot, marrying something that resembles Powerman 5000’s ‘When Worlds Collide’ (even Spider hears it) with a futuristic power-pop party anthem. If it wasn’t for Gerard Way’s signature delivery, you’d likely have no idea this was My Chemical Romance, even still, it is a damn good time.
As with all of the songs on Danger Days, ‘Party Poison’ features elements of the signature MCR sound, with vocal and guitar histrionics and thumping rhythms, bringing that undeniable goth-punk-goes-glam character and smashing it together with an absolute rager of a garage-punk chorus. It’s fucking fantastic. ‘Save Yourself, I’ll Hold Them Back’ wouldn’t have been out of place on Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, it is a nice nostalgic reminder of who you’re listening to. The same can’t be said of ‘S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W’, which is objectively a really good and unique song. Sounding closer to a modern Bowie update than anything in MCR’s back catalogue it as well an executed experiment in how far from their source material a band can drift as you’ll come across. If the album had been entirely filled with songs like this, then that awkward split between critical acclaim and fan opinion would likely have been even more vast.
‘Summertime’ is a gorgeous slice of shimmery storytelling that ties sonic elements of The Black Parade with contemporary sounds and just a smidgen of ‘Siamese Dream’ era Smashing Pumpkins to create a soundscape of seductive escapism. Speaking of alt-rock, the bonkers, ‘DESTROYA’ makes a play at incorporating every heavy rock movement of the ’90/’2000s into one song, with understandably varied results. Some people love this track, others hate it, which at the very least makes it art.
For all of the genre-blending, Black Parade-rejecting, stereotype abandoning that takes place on Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, it is also home to one of the best signature My Chemical Romance moments, in the form of the superb ‘The Kids from Yesterday’ which sounds like a modern update of the timeless songs U2 used to make, funnelled through the idiosyncrasies of MCR’s playing styles, their goth influences and Way’s undeniable ability to convey emotion. It makes for an odd contrast with the hedonistic, helter-skelter garage-punk of the album’s riotous finale ‘Vampire Money’, but that’s part of the charm of Danger Days – one minute it is exactly what you expect and the next it is something you’d never even considered. As far as ending a record in 2010 goes, it is hard to fault an expletive-ridden, punk spirited song about not wanting to write a song for Twilight no matter what their label wants. It is perfectly in keeping with the spirit of both the record itself and the mindset the band was in when they made it.
While Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is not the same calibre of record of either Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge or The Black Parade it is also not worthy of the title ‘band killer’ that some segments of their fanbase have attributed to it. It is a bold experiment in musical reinvention, born out of a band’s genuine boredom and frustration with the monster they’d created. There are moments on this record where every member of My Chemical Romance flexes their creative muscles, letting rip in ways they only hinted at previously. Which, when you consider how much was going on ‘Welcome to The Black Parade’, is really saying something. Guitarists Frank Iero and Ray Toro, in particular, sound like they’re having the time of their lives, and Gerard Way lets his characterisation game fly, taking a run at some wildly varied deliveries, that only serve to reaffirm why he will go down as one of the 2000’s best frontmen. Admittedly not everything works, but that’s okay because the reality is that nothing MCR put out was ever going to be enough to appease a world that fell in love with The Black Parade and going back to mimic Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge would have been perceived as regression.
Once they committed to making an album, they were left with two options: try to create a poor facsimile of The Black Parade as a method of fan service and probably both underwhelm and implode or go on a fantastical music adventure, encumbered only by the limits of their own imaginations. Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, is the sound of the latter, given 21st Century Breakdown is a contemporary example of what could have happened if they’d chosen the former approach, we can all be thankful that they let their imaginations run wild. This record doesn’t need my defending, listen to it, it stands up on its own.