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Revisiting My Chemical Romance's rock opera triumph 'The Black Parade' 15 years later

This week marked the 15th anniversary of My Chemical Romance‘s third studio album, The Black Parade. The LP is undoubtedly the band’s magnum opus and is their most enduring piece of work. On the record, the group matured, and this, tied with the adult themes that it dealt with, has culminated in the record having a timeless quality that their other releases seemed to lack.

The band cast off the futile third-wave emo discussions of why they were not OK and, instead, dealt with more adult themes of death, life, romance and everything in between. My Chemical Romance had come of age, and it showed. Even frontman Gerard Way had cut off his long black locks in favour of a short peroxide barnet. Let’s not mess around; regardless of what you think of it, The Black Parade is a soaring rock opera, and, on it, the band moved closer to a 21st Century version of Queen than their previous iteration.

Aside from Queen, the band took many of their cues from Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, in the sense that the record followed the journey of a central character just in this case it was ‘The Patient’, as seen in the video for ‘Welcome To The Black Parade’.

There were also flecks of rock’s premier concept album writers Pink Floyd and The Beatles. Explicitly, direct parallels have been drawn between the Floyd track ‘In The Flesh?’ from The Wall and the album’s opener ‘The End’.

Apart from the overt rock opera facet of the record, musically it was so much more than that. The long-term MCR fans who hated the record as they saw it as the band selling-out, were either wrong or misguided, as it was an augmentation of the band’s old sound. There were still elements of hardcore, ’emo’, post-hardcore and alternative rock, but the band expertly fused it with other ingredients including soft rock and glam, in the process took their career to the next level. 

The album was massive because it had something in it for everyone, even your mum. Guitarist Ray Toro said “The intention was to make something that was classic, something timeless”, and they weren’t far off. Not only did the band prove themselves to have an astute understanding of the artistic need for progression, but they also proved themselves to be conceptual masters.

Much of the plaudits for this artistic direction must be sent in Gerard Way’s direction, as we have now seen with the release of The Umbrella Academy just how much of a creative visionary he is.

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If we note some of the album’s tracks, it quickly becomes apparent that this is without a doubt the most complete MCR record. Possibly owing to its overarching concept, there seemed to be fewer fillers than on their previous two releases. ‘Dead!’, ‘Welcome To The Black Parade’, ‘I Don’t Love You’, ‘Teenagers’, and ‘Famous Last Words’. These are just a few of the album’s highlights. 

Personally, one would argue that ‘Famous Last Words’ is the best track on the record. It manages to fuse the anthemic zest of the record with the more pacey, visceral guitar work that the band had become known for in their previous releases. Dealing with death and saying goodbye to a loved one, there is a brilliant juxtaposition between the music and lyrics, that make the song all the more powerful.

In all honesty, though, the album is such a well-glued offering, it’s hard to single one track out, as to do so would to do it a disservice. This is not to say the album is without its down points, as it’s not. There are some definitely cringe moments, as it was still an ’emo’ record at heart. Furthermore, it is guilty of being overly melodramatic at parts, but this is MCR so it’s to be expected.

Is the album relevant today? In short, yes. You could even argue that the record is more relevant today than it was back then. Those who were kids when the album was released have now grown up, and its themes have now taken on a more pertinent life. Now, the record is less about what the sweeping ‘scene’ fringe represents and is more a chronicle of the human experience, just with a very 2006, ’emo’ twist. 

Strangely, the album seems to have had a rebirth with the TikTok generation and the younger members of Generation Z. Ironically, this shows that the spirit of third wave ’emo’ was not a fleeting thing. Due to hormones, angst and all the other messy bits of adolescence, there’s always going to be kids who find solace in the record and the band’s message. In this sense, Toro was right, it is timeless.

If you read a portion of the lyrics of ‘The End’, you’ll see this is clear: “Now, come one, come all to this tragic affair / Wipe off that makeup, what’s in is despair / So throw on the black dress, mix in with the lot / You might wake up and notice you’re someone you’re not”. Whether it’s 2006 or 2026, there’s always going to be kids this sentiment resonates with. 

If you haven’t heard it since the ’00s, The Black Parade is definitely worth a revisit. Just be prepared to hear a completely different record to the one you did back then. 

Listen to The Black Parade in full below.