My Chemical Reaction’s new release, The Foundations of Decay, at first glance seems like a throwback to their emo roots, but it’s a mature sonic release.
In #TheMusicThatMadeUssenior journalist Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri tells the impact that musicians and their art have on our lives, how they shape the industry by rewriting its rules and how they make us the people we become: their greatest legacies
The delayed return of My Chemical Romance is, in fact, a blessing in disguise. Back in a post-lockdown world that is involved in multiple hues of personal transformations, MCR’s postponed reunion tour couldn’t have been timed better. After announcing their comeback concert in 2019, their plans – just like ours – had not taken into account a pandemic that was forcing people to stay home, lose their jobs, homeschool their children and struggle with a growing sense of hopelessness.
In short, the perfect breeding ground for the manifestation of a new generation of the emo experience. While frontman Gerard Way has stubbornly denied the band’s emo undertones, MCR fans are united in their appreciation of music that dives deep into emotional expression. Way dismissed emo as a genre of rock music itself, preferring to highlight the lyrical rock nature of their songwriting and songwriting.
Harnessing elements of funk, pop, hard rock, goth and alternative rock, MCR were unique in taking intimate, confessional lyrics and giving them a more theatrical vocalization under the command of Gerard Way. Their hugely popular Three cheers for sweet revenge marked a turning point in the perception of the group.
Beginning with the brutality of a rock band eager to break the then-contemporary emo-meets-post punk mould, MCR rose to worldwide fame with three cheers, an album that exuded everything the emo movement stood for. Heartfelt emotional lyrics that combined introspection and admission, held together by punk’s rugged guitar playing seeing an interplay of hard and soft elements of the genre form a distinct nature of emo. Yet with prog rock’s predisposition for unorthodox song structures and extreme shifts in sound style, emo was literally a band and its instrument wore their hearts on their sleeves.
The brooding sense of existence is projected into the moody, emotionally tense songwriting and the vocal screams only reinforce the fundamentals of the genre. With their third album, The black paradethe band presents a world where 2000s emo, alternative rock, post-hardcore and punk rock have their roots in influences from classic rock, glam rock, pop and 1970s gothic rock.
This ran alongside the resurgence of the next generation of emo fans who began sporting the flat, black look of straight hair with black kohl-lined eyes, skinny pants and tight t-shirts. Naturally, such fandom follows the cyclical nature of being an outlier in society; where the idea of not fitting in inspires music that fans identify with, only for fans to stand out for being out of the mainstream, even in an uber niche genre like alternative rock.
My Chemical Romance isn’t alone in finding such dedicated fans for the emotional honesty their music represents. Bands like Fall Out Boy, AFI, The Used and even Panic! At The Disco also saw their fans unite in the relationship that these emo bands offered.
This underground emo culture was born out of social isolation, angst and even misanthropy. With the rise in cases of suicide, depression, and self-harm, groups like MCR began to distance themselves from the word “emo” and openly denounced any association with it.
It may have worked tactically for the band, but the sense of community that fanhood provides cannot be renamed at the whim of an artist. Particularly one that’s immensely influenced by Queen, The Cure, Joy Division, and even the appropriate title, Misfits. Queen’s energy and love for greatness emanates from the band’s third album The black parade.
Concept albums are nothing new to rock and roll, with each decade spawning monumental and groundbreaking works, Think Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band (The Beatles), The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars (David Bowie), The wall (PinkFloyd), tommy (The Who) … you get the point. Once a staple of 1970s rock, the concept album or rock opera in this case enjoyed a resounding resurgence in the 2000s with The black paradeintroducing new, more anxious audiences.
Combining the pain of Nirvana with the madness of the Sex Pistols, the dynamism of an Iron Maiden with the depth of Queen, MCR pushed themselves further into the traditional acceptance of alternative rock but never really lost the emo core. .
Their new release The foundations of decadence prima facie seems like a throwback to their emo roots but it’s a mature sounding release.
As the band finally wraps up their short concert streak, MCR’s reunion is a very optimistic sign in this post-pandemic world. We emerged on the other side with our charged emotions and a new sense of existentialism. In this context, an evolved My Chemical Romance with new music is really the antidote we need.
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Senior journalist Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri has spent the better part of two decades chronicling arts, culture and lifestyles.
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