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My Chemical Romance: 10 Essential Tracks

Written by David James Young on November 6, 2019

Nearly seven years on from calling it quits and going their separate ways, My Chemical Romance shocked the world at the end of last week by announcing their official comeback with a headlining show that well and truly sold out within a minute of going on sale. This taught us two things. One: The Jonas Brothers were telling the truth the whole time. More importantly, two: The legacy of this game-changing band has only ballooned and blossomed in the intervening years, cementing their status as one of rock music’s greatest disruptive forces in the 21st century.

Today, fresh off the announcement the band will be returning to Australia for the first time in over seven years to headline Download Festival in 2020, we’re going to be looking at 10 of the band’s essential tracks from across all four of their studio albums. Before we get into it, though, a caveat: We’re not going to be talking about ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ today. Why? Because everyone from Alex Lahey to Kevin Smith to Craig Schuftan has already said just about everything that needs to be said about it. Sometimes, you’ve just got to take a knee – and also be the saviour of the broken, the beaten and the damned.

With that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the bangers, ballads and balled-up fists that make up the My Chemical Romance back catalogue.

Skylines and Turnstiles, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love (2002)

If one wants to talk quote-unquote essential songs, you could do far worse than to look at the song that more or less started it all. In the wake of September 11, a young Gerard Way attempted to channel his innermost fears and emotional turmoil into writing lyrics. It was this that lead to what ended up being the first My Chemical Romance song. Still being in the infant stages of the band’s development, the song is indebted more to scrappy pop-punk than the black-shirt-red-tie melodrama that would ensue. Even then, it’s an endearing and energetic song that served as foundational in the MCR canon.

Honey, This Mirror Isn’t Big Enough for the Two of Us, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love (2002)

On ‘Honey’, we start to get a wider idea of how My Chem were learning how to function as a unit. Ray Toro’s metal-tinged riffs leading the fray, Frank Iero’s unwieldy screamed vocals and the unmistakable histrionics of Gerard Way parading across the frontlines. It’s rough-and-tumble skate-punk with a sting in the tail. It’s still rough around the edges, but you’d be suspicious if it was anything less. After all, the band were barely out of their teens when this was being put together – and it’s their youthful exuberance that shines especially bright here.

The Ghost of You, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (2004)

The band hadn’t quite nailed their departures into balladry on I Brought You My Bullets… – just another part of the teething process. With ‘The Ghost of You’, however, they created a career-best moment that remains a key fan-favourite to this very day. From the shimmering, arpeggiated guitars to the sprawling, clenched-fist chorus, ‘The Ghost of You’ is the emotional epicentre of the band’s breakthrough LP in Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. Even as ballads became a bigger part of the MCR sound, none ever quite reached the same heights.

Thank You for the Venom, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (2004)

“You’ll never make me leave/I’ll wear this on my sleeve.” If there was a better lyric to succinctly sum up My Chemical Romance circa the mid-2000s, you’d be hard-pressed to find it. They were a hungry, defiant band in the face of a punk and metal scene that didn’t want them to succeed. They got bottled, booed and bashed – and still, there they stood. Toro shreds a Brian May-worthy guitar solo, Bob Bryar smashes through the drums at breakneck speed and this timely middle-finger anthem holds as true now as it did back then.

Dead!, The Black Parade (2006)

After the overture of ‘The End.’, MCR’s definitive album kicks off in earnest with one of the most urgent, arresting and big-swinging songs of their career. It’s where we’re officially introduced to The Patient, the protagonist of The Black Parade, who is being hit with some tragic news amidst the chaos of pounding guitars, a triumphant horns section and the second-best use of “na na na”s in the band’s entire discography. You can guess what the first is. From its flatlining intro to its grandiose finale, ‘Dead!’ makes no bones about the band’s newfound ambition.

Mama, The Black Parade (2006)

Perhaps the biggest stylistic departure of the album, ‘Mama’ throws in just about everything except the kitchen sink as The Patient spirals into complete madness. When something is described as having all the whistles and bells, it’s not normally meant literally – and yet, ‘Mama’ takes care of that too. It bounces from an anthemic rock chorus to a Gypsy-folk verse with a bit of oom-pa-pa thrown in for good measure. Then, just when you think you’ve heard everything, who should turn up but Liza goddamn Minelli. How The Black Parade hasn’t been turned into an internationally touring stage musical a la American Idiot is really anyone’s guess.

DESTROYA, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (2010)

Not keen on repeating themselves after the exhaustive cycle of The Black Parade, the band forged ahead with a sound on Danger Days that didn’t quite sit in the same spectrum as anything they’d done previously. It alienated fans, but in retrospect, the album deserved a lot more credit for shaking up the notion of what My Chem “had” to sound like. ‘DESTROYA’ is a prime example of this. The riff is more primitive and hard-hitting in nature, while the song’s percussive undercurrent adds a further drive to its high-octane nature. It’s MCR, but not as we know it. DESTROY-AHH!

The Kids from Yesterday, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (2010)

When MCR played this song live, Way would get the audience to clap along “like a heartbeat”: Boom, boom-boom. It didn’t seem prophetic at the time, only rhythmical. Looking back on the context, however, one can view this song as the final heartbeat of a dying band. It’s as fitting a swansong as one could hope – anthemic, defiant, not going quietly into that good night. The vocal performance from Way is one of the most heartfelt the band ever recorded, and its glistening synths gave the feel of an ’80s movie end-credits. As the song fades into the sunset, so too does the band.

I’m Not Okay (I Promise), Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (2004)

Inextricably linked to its era-defining music video, ‘I’m Not Okay’ doesn’t so much lean into the mall-emo stereotype as it does jump out the second floor. It’s all running mascara, swooped fringes and wailing across both the vocal and guitar department. Were one to attempt creating a time capsule of emo’s third-wave, only Hawthorne Heights’ ‘Ohio Is For Lovers’ could do it better justice than ‘I’m Not Okay’ – and even then, ‘Ohio’ isn’t nearly as fun. An anthem for every also-ran art kid who used a line from this as their MSN away message.

Famous Last Words, The Black Parade (2006)

We couldn’t end on anything else. The final frontier of MCR’s masterpiece, ‘Famous Last Words’ damn near killed emo’s third wave in a blazing fire – quite literally, as the video will testify. The minor-key crunch of the verses is spun on its head when the all-encompassing chorus – shifting to the song’s relative major – comes charging through the gates with all the subtlety of a swinging hammer. It’s a masterclass in both pop and rock songwriting and truthfully deserves just as much credit as the other two singles to be lifted from The Black Parade. Awake. Unafraid. Iconic.

My Chemical Romance will headline Download Festival Australia in 2020. Head here for more information.

Also, we’ll just leave this here:

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