With “The Black Parade” a comfortable, double-platinum memory, My Chemical Romance chose to march to a different beat on its new album.
But it took some time to find the right rhythm for “Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys.
There was some pressure, of course. “The Black Parade,” an ambitiously over-the-top socio-political concept album, was a stone smash, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, bowing in the Top 5 of seven other countries and netting a Grammy Award nomination as well as a platinum single in “Welcome to the Black Parade.”
But the album was dogged by backlash that caught the group by surprise.
“The reaction to ‘The Black Parade’ was at times misunderstood, misrepresented, misinterpreted,” says frontman Gerard Way, 33, who formed My Chemical Romance in 2001, after studying at New York’s School of Visual Arts. “There were, like, hate crimes on these kids who were just wearing black, and media — especially tabloids in the U.K. — painted this giant target on these kids and turned it into a culture thing to sell papers.”
All of that, he acknowledges, made My Chemical Romance a bit gun-shy about what it wanted to do for its next venture.
“It’s like at first we almost tried to not make any noise or not shake the boat in order to not have to go through that again or not put the fans through that again,” Way says. “It was this weird kind of protective yet cowardly move where it was like, ‘I don’t want to face that again, so let’s not make something great.’ ”
So MCR did “this whole other attempt” on its fourth studio album, which Way says was decidedly not great. Or even very good.
“It just lacked something special,” Way says of the discarded album. “It’s a rock record, but in a very boring way because, to me, ‘Danger Days’ is a rock album in a traditional sense in that it challenges. To me, the best rock albums are things like (the Sex Pistols’) ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ or ‘Combat Rock’ by the Clash, things that challenge the notion of what rock was.
“So in trying to make this great American rock record, we ended up making something very boring. It’s a collection of songs that just don’t fit together. We were cleaning up in a very boring way.”
Once realizing that, Way and his bandmates — brother and bassist Mikey Way and guitarists Frank Iero and Ray Toro — returned to the co-producer of “The Black Parade,” Rob Cavallo, and quickly shifted creative gears. “It was,” Way recalls, “ ‘Let’s make so much more noise than we ever have. Let’s use color. Let’s use art. Let’s really kind of contaminate and irritate. Let’s really paint a target on us now.’
“It’s in rebellion to being assimilated into very safe, 30-something rock culture where you basically kind of give up. It rebels against that kind of giving up.”
“Danger Days” — which came out Nov. 19 and debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 — actually started life as an idea for a comic book about “The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys.” It’s a “high concept” piece that Way describes as “a transmission from 2019 via pirate radio opposing a kind of corporate, clean utopian city ... which is very easy to live in and your emotions are handed to you in pill form.” Outside that city, however, is a zone of deserts which are the domain of the Fabulous Killjoys and other rebels and are “really dangers, but really free.”
“There’s not an intense story,” Way explains, “but the idea is almost like, ‘What would you go through to be free? Would you keep running to stay free?’ And as a complete metaphor for everything, the Killjoys represent art vs. corporate cleanup.”
But, he adds, the Fabulous Killjoys — a quartet with a character counterpart for each of the My Chemical Romance members — are not exactly knights in shining armor.
“It’s just a gang of survivalist, total outlaws,” says Way, who still plans to publish the “Fabulous Killjoys” comic in the wake of the album’s release. “I don’t see them as good guys as all. In fact, I don’t see anybody as the good guys or the bad guys; it’s just two opposing views. But to me what it really represents is the bands, the fans and the artists we’ve met along the way and ... really inform this album and inspired us to make this great thing that challenges.”
One thing that separates “Danger Days” from its predecessor, Way adds, is that it’s more flexible than “The Black Parade,” especially when it comes to live performances where My Chemical Romance played the earlier album in its entirety.
“It wasn’t spontaneous on ‘The Black Parade,’ ” Way says, “and it wasn’t fun at a certain point. So this is whatever goes. We could play (the songs) in any order. We can play as many as we want. We can play all of them. We can play none of them. The band just has such a renewed spirit from doing the album; it wants to keep playing the ‘Danger Days’ songs, but it mixes them in with the old ones, which is really nice.”
And even though it’s a markedly different sound than “The Black Parade” — and its two predecessors, for that matter — Way says there’s no apprehension about how My Chemical Romance’s fans will receive the change.
“My wife said that the aftermath is secondary, and that’s pretty spot-on,” affirms Way. “I’m not saying (how the fans react) is not important. It is. But it’s just not as important as us doing (the album). Our satisfaction had to come first, before anything else.”
My Chemical Romance, Sick Puppies and Middle Class Rut perform at The Night 89X Stole Christmas on Friday, Dec. 17, at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are sold out. Call 313-961-5450 or visit www.livenation.com.
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