BY BROCK LANDERS
My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way is quoted in a recent Spin magazine cover story as saying “ Why are we slumming it, battling it out with other guys with guitars to get a better spot on a radio format that kinda sucks and is losing its foothold anyway? Everything is going into pop. So how do you make rock important again? By moving into enemy territory.”
On their fourth album Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys, My Chemical Romance does just that, embracing their inner Lady Gaga, Jonas Brothers, MGMT, and heaven help us, Coldplay. Yet, surprisingly, they pull it off without losing their personality and identity. This is an album that will appeal to a certain segment of the population that would have never before dreamed of listening to My Chemical Romance, while still having enough attitude and riffs to please the hardcore fans.
Danger Days had a turbulent genesis, one that did not leave the band unscathed. After the two-year tour that followed My Chemical Romance’s previous album, 2006’s The Black Parade, the group entered the studio with a much different agenda. They set out to make a stripped down punk record, using such proto-punk pioneers as The Stooges and The MC5 as touchstones, and imposed upon themselves a set of rules to strip away the over the top theatricality of The Black Parade. They ultimately found themselves too constrained by these self-imposed restrictions (this is a band that does “over the top” exceptionally well) and started over again, scrapping their previous effort. This abrupt about face cost them long-time drummer Bob Bryar, who left the group after their change in direction. The band finished the album as a four piece.
In keeping with their last two albums, Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge and The Black Parade, Danger Days is a concept album. It details a near future ruled by a nefarious corporation called “Better Living Industries” which is opposed by a group of rogue artists, “the Killjoys”. Like those previous albums, the concept is less a storyline than a theme to organize the songs around. After the cancer/death centered Black Parade, it is telling that Danger Days opens with the words “Look alive sunshine”. Light and hope are reoccurring themes on Danger Days, with the group seeming to shed their goth trappings to go along with their new pop-centric attitude. Not that My Chemical Romance have gone completely soft on it’s audience, the more perverse among us will appreciate the irony of the group incorporating an anti-corporate stance on their most accessible album to date.
This is a group who definitely ascribe to the notion that anything worth doing is worth doing all the way. When they say they are going pop, they dive in headfirst. The first single “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)” is a glam rock confection so insidiously catchy you will either find it exultant or infuriating, but either way it will lodge itself in your brain.
Songs like “Bulletproof Heart” and “The Only Hope For Me Is You” are power pop in the Disney-factory mold that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Jonas Brothers album, if the Jo Bros sung songs about evil corporations and robot vampires.
“Planetary (Go)” and “The Kids From Yesterday” are Dance/electro pop numbers that echo Lady GaGa and MGMT respectively, while “Summertime” features chiming guitars and a plaintive vocal that Coldplay’s Chris Martin would give his left pinky (or Gwyneth Paltrow) to have written, since it’s better than anything Coldplay have done since Parachutes.
The second single “Sing” is the type of inspirational ballad tailor-made for a thousand movie trailer montages. If it doesn’t end up on Glee, it’s only because Fox didn’t drop a bank vault on MCR’s doorstep.
Three songs have survived from the band’s first attempt and they are easy to pick out. They rock with more fury than just about anything My Chemical Romance have recorded to date. If “Party Poison” or “Deystroya” don’t have you spontaneously moshing, your feet are glued to the floor.
What keeps Danger Days from becoming a schizophrenic mess or sounding like a calculated sell-out is the whole-hearted sincerity that Gerard Way and co. imbues on to every track. Whether it’s dance pop or blistering punk the band throw themselves into it with equal abandon. As a result, each track flows cohesively into one another, no matter the stylistic differences. It also helps that they are obviously having fun with the whole endeavor. Even at their darkest on The Black Parade, My Chemical Romance always had their collective tongue planted firmly in cheek and their sly sense of humor is very much in evidence on Danger Days. I mean really, how can you fault a band that exhorts you to “shut up and let me see your jazz hands”?
Danger Days closes and comes full circle with the song “Vampire Money”, on which My Chemical Romance pokes fun at all the bands that scrambled to get on the Twilight soundtrack. With Danger Days, My Chemical Romance prove that they don’t need a backdoor way to get airplay, they’ll waltz right in through the front – thank you very much.