How My Chemical Romance changed the meaning of the term ‘emo’ forever and inspired a generation with one album.
Rankings of best My Chemical Romance albums amongst fans are always a contentious issue, but regardless of opinions on personal favourites, there’s one album that few can argue is their most influential – 2004’s ‘Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge’.
Debut album ‘I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love’ was a rough round the edges, aggressive punk ball of angst which won them a small but dedicated initial fanbase and enough initial label interest to have people fighting to sign them before they could even fill out small halls. Pretty much everyone was able to see that these guys had something special, exciting and different right from the offset. By third album ‘The Black Parade’ they were already well established in the game, releasing what was essentially their emo opus, providing a classic album and an anthem for generations to come in lead single ‘Welcome To The Black Parade’. And final official full length ‘Danger Days’ saw them experimenting and branching into new territory, focusing on more pop-driven stadium anthems and bouncy, upbeat rhythms that were a lot less dark and emo sounding. Every album had something good about it; every album brought something new to the table, but it was undoubtedly ‘Three Cheers’ which established My Chem as a force to be reckoned with, forging a name for themselves and pretty much singlehandedly creating a new branch of emo.
“it was undoubtedly ‘Three Cheers’ which established My Chem as a force to be reckoned with…”
And before anyone starts throwing hands saying My Chemical Romance aren’t emo, lets get a little deeper on that one for a moment, because it’s all good background stuff which further proves the importance of this album. We can start by getting some facts straight. My Chemical Romance didn’t invent emo. That honour respectfully goes to Ian MacKaye and Embrace way back in 1985, and then later to the likes of Rites Of Spring, Sunny Day Real Estate, The Promise Ring, Jawbreaker, and The Get Up Kids, the latter of which have a massive connection with My Chem since their keyboard player James Dewees later ended up tinkling the ivories for MCR in their live shows as well as joining guitarist Frank Iero for his side projects Leathermouth and later, Death Spells. The band are also massive fans of Jawbreaker; Iero especially, who has a ‘Jinx Removing’ tattoo on his neck. So no, My Chem didn’t invent emo. But are they emo? Yes. Wasting your energy arguing they’re not is a bit like saying Turnstile aren’t punk because they don’t sound like The Sex Pistols. It makes logical sense that, within genres, there can be many different types of bands, of varying styles and sounds, that still encompass and fit within that genre.
When MCR burst onto the scene, bands such as Taking Back Sunday and The Used were already beginning to pave the way, drawing influence from the traditional – and more laid back – melodic emo sounds of the 90s, and then almost taking it back to its original punk roots; heavier guitars, screams and plenty of punk energy, mingled with catchy anthemic choruses, melodic hooklines and thoughtful, emotive, deeper lyrics. My Chem didn’t invent any of that. TBS and The Used were just two of their contemporaries who were doing it a couple of years before them; but what they did do was grab the bull by the horns and run with it. They tapped into that sound, made it their own, developed it, and they brought it to the masses in a way that previous bands hadn’t been able to do. And ‘Three Cheers’ was the album that did it; the album that turned the tide, and changed the alternative music scene forever.
“They tapped into that sound, made it their own, developed it…”
There’s a really great, behind the scenes movie about the band’s meteoric rise to fame entitled Life On The Murder Scene. It’s quite lengthy but goes by fast and is well worth checking out. There’s a part where Mikey Way details how they wanted to sound “as if Morrissey was in the Misfits.” It was almost a joke throwaway comment but it’s actually a perfect description of My Chem’s style, and a perfect description of the style of emo they heralded.
Emo had always been deep and heartfelt (‘emotional’, right?), but it had never been about eyeliner and blood and horror before. That had always been the realm of the goths, the metalheads and the hardcore punks. But growing up in New Jersey hanging out on the punk scene, the band were of course heavily influenced by the likes of the Misfits, who as we know, were all about dressing up, slapping on some makeup, and writing songs about death and murder. And that was what made the difference between ‘Bullets’ and ‘Three Cheers’. If you compare press shots of the band from “Bullets era” to “Revenge era”, as it came to be known, the difference in their image is markable. They started out like every other band in the genre. They wore ripped jeans, trainers or boots, rock shirts with their favourite bands on, hoodies, leather jackets etc. Just regular stuff. By 2004’s release of ‘Three Cheers’, they’d tightened up not only on their sound, but their image. Now, they had a slick, almost uniformed look. They didn’t all look the same, but they shared the same theme. And they weren’t afraid to slap some wacky makeup on either, with Gerard Way making himself look as pasty as possible then creating a mask of black over his eyes with stage makeup, and Frank Iero drawing X’s over his, after covering them in layers of red eyeshadow. It’s a look that’s been borrowed from, developed or just outright copied ever since within the music industry.
“…forging a path between different genres, with enough catchy choruses and hooks to shake up the charts a little too.”
It seemed that almost overnight that entire image and subculture became cool and relevant for a generation of misplaced, misunderstood teens. Of course, this wasn’t the first time make up on dudes, quirky haircuts and dark, gothic type clothes had been seen on a rock band. Not by a long shot. The likes of Manson and his contemporaries had been doing this kind of thing for years in the metal scene, but that was different. Moshers, greebos or whatever you called them back in the day, had their own subculture, their own little crew, and of course, their own style of music. Metal wasn’t for everyone. It was heavy and in your face, unapologetic, controversial, and for some, unnerving and scary until they got to know it a little better. My Chemical Romance seemed more approachable. They were still edgy, and your mum still might not approve, but their music built some much needed bridges, forging a path between different genres, with enough catchy choruses and hooks to shake up the charts a little too.
For right or wrong, emo became synonymous with My Chemical Romance. To a new generation of kids who hadn’t been tapped into what had come before, and had even missed the boat on the likes of Taking Back Sunday and The Used, MCR were at the forefront of the movement. They were the leaders, along with contemporaries Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco, the three of them collectively becoming known under the cringeworthy name of ‘The Emo Trinity’. Whether FOB and Panic are actually emo is another essay for another day, but their hits are still getting played at emo nites all round the world. These days, there’s a whole other generation of emo kids who missed the boat on MCR, and its bands like twenty one pilots who are now spearheading the genre. TOP paid homage to the OGs with their cover of ‘Cancer’ last year, and the likes of Palaye Royale have dipped their toes into My Chem’s catalogue too. Their cover of ‘Teenagers’ always goes down a storm live with their audience of mostly emo kids. Palaye style themselves as ‘fashion art rock’ and they incorporate the makeup looks and the androgynous, swish clothing.
“It was the album that caused the explosion in the scene – the clothes, the makeup, the gothic influence, the horror themes, the darkness”
People are always searching for ‘the next MCR’ but that’s just an idea that doesn’t exist (a bit like MCR itself. Ouch). You have Dead! and Famous Last Words, who literally named themselves after My Chem songs, and of course, Creeper, who play around with the eerie horrorcore and high concept vibes that was a staple of MCR but have established a respectable name for themselves in their own right along the way. These are just a handful of the more obvious, but there’s countless amounts of bands who are, or who have been, influenced by My Chem on some level, and ‘Three Cheers’ was really the album which started all this. It was the album that opened up doors and allowed them to create ‘The Black Parade’; led them to that point. And it was the album that caused the explosion in the scene – the clothes, the makeup, the gothic influence, the horror themes, the darkness. If the emo scene and subculture annoys you, then you should probably shake your fist at this album and get angry at it. To describe it as a classic almost understates its importance. This was the album that changed everything, not only for My Chemical Romance, but for everyone else too…and we’re still not okay.
WORDS: BECTON SIMPSON