My Chemical Romance had hit a rough patch in their career. Signs of this first came when the band reported they had recorded a stripped-down punk album, only to scrap it months after completion. Shortly thereafter, drummer Bob Bryar left, under circumstances neither the band nor Bryar will talk about. Factor in the bad publicity they had received towards the end of the Black Parade tour following a fan’s suicide—the band was going through a bizarre transition. So now that they were being pegged as a suicide cult band and the band was in artistic limbo, it wasn’t really that surprising that they wanted to leave the past behind them. But in this process, they claimed they had become boring, “another young rock group” and had lost their identity. So they put their noses to the grindstone and hammered out yet another new album that was theatrical, over-the-top, and all the things we’ve come to expect from them.
However, what makes Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys interesting is that it doesn’t really deliver on any of the promises band members made during its recording. In fact, it makes me wonder what their punk album sounded like, because this doesn’t sound that different from their description of the scrapped album. Thankfully, the band uses its predicament to come back and make their most uplifting album to date.
Danger Days is an homage to fast cars, rock n’ roll and American culture. Half of the album is a blitzkrieg of blazing guitar driven songs that are meant to evoke a sense of speed. The album even ends with the National Anthem segueing into a “Johnny B. Goode”-inspired punk anthem, and really this is where the album succeeds. Songs like “Destroya” have a larger-than-life sound that borrows a page from Rage Against the Machine’s book. “Na Na Na Na” is a text-book MCR song with infectious hooks and frantic guitar work from Ray Toro. And the album’s centerpiece, “Save Yourself, I’ll Hold Them Back,” has a blistering Western sound that would actually have sounded right at home on Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. Even when the band ventures into electro-soaked pop on “Planetary (Go),” the song is frantic and in-your-face, and doesn’t sound out of place in the track order or their canon. The other half of the album is slowed-down anthems that borrow from ‘80’s icons such as the Cure and U2, which generally work.
The album only stumbles when the band tries its hand at slowed-down electro pop such as “The Only Hope For Me Is You”, which just comes across as formulaic and meandering. When you have a song like this blocking the album from taking off at full speed, it kind of puts the brakes on things. This album is at its best when it’s blazing, balls-to-the-wall-rock. Not all of the experimental ventures on this album are a failure on though. “/S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W/” is the best track on the album, with warbled vocals that recall Magical Mystery Tour era Beatles, and its subdued chorus. It’s a vastly different sound for the band, one I wish they would have strives to expand on more.
My Chemical Romance likes to reinvent itself with every release. Maybe this spawns from the band’s love of Comic Books or Gerard Way’s love for chameleon acts like David Bowie. Regardless, this always works as a double edged sword. For those that fell in love with a specific sound from the band, it will never last. While every album has the My Chemical Romance sound, it’s always stylistically and thematically different. The best way to approach their albums is individually – as a new band and sound altogether. The album’s only flaw then, depends on the listeners interest in the new era and sound MCR is currently venturing in. For me, it’s the lack of theatrics and concept their other records had going for them that stops this album from being great. It’s become a staple for the band to have over-the-top concepts and stories tying the records together. For some, this isn’t an issue. After all not everyone cares about overblown concepts, and they just want music. Danger Days is probably their most straightforward album to date, ditching the rock/punk opera and strung-out plot for more in-your-face rock songs and catchy pop tunes. The album isn’t completely devoid of a concept, however. The band wanted to portray a post-apocalyptic America with a DJ checking in on the listener every once in a while. And while lyrically the album doesn’t paint a story as clearly as past records, the music picks up the slack and reflects their post apocalyptic world with car chases and gun shootouts well enough.
Danger Days is the band’s first major release that feels and sounds optimistic about the future. It’s an album about just letting go, and enjoying the ride for what it is, and not being constrained to limitations. For the majority of this 54-minute ride, it succeeds admirably. This is the kind of album you just throw on to have fun. If anything, it proves My Chemical Romance don’t need to be eccentric or theatrical to put out an enjoyable record. But they are so much better when they do. And this album will either appeal to the listener from dropping their over blown eccentricities, or disappoint the listener because it doesn’t go far enough. Depending on what side you fall, your reaction will be different. Regardless, there is no denying that MCR are a band that likes to take risks, and they have fun doing so.
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