Parading through vaudeville

by Karlien van der Wielen

My Chemical Romance?s watershed album, The Black Parade, is a throwback to vaudeville absurdism, mixing dark humour with poignant themes that either grab you by the throat or grate your bones.

The Black Parade was released in 2006 and would later be named among the top ten albums for that year. My Chemical Romance revives the 70s-style concept album through 14 tracks (including a hidden track), that tell the story of “The Patient” – a man dying of cancer.

The first part of the album focuses on The Patient?s demise, culminating in his dying memory in Welcome to the Black Parade. These tracks emphasise the seeming meaninglessness of The Patient?s life and the insignificance of his death. The latter part of the album offers flashbacks of The Patient?s life and finally concludes in Famous Last Words

As with their previous albums, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge and I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, The Black Parade is deeply theatrical and shows obvious signs of the band?s horror influence. Songs such as Mama and The Sharpest Lives mix emotional angst with images of blood and death that are reminiscent of both conventional horrors and opera-like drama. Despite being described as “ostentatious” by Ed Thompson, My Chemical Romance brings a fashionable gaudiness to the macabre that makes the album a delicious satire of society today.

The album shows deep influences by Queen in guitar and crescendo build-ups, thereby retaining a flavour of conventional rock while maintaining an alternative punk-edge. This edge is softened, however, in tracks like I Don’t Love You and Disenchanted, which provide more sensitive explorations of The Patient’s journey to death. Especially the muted notes of Cancer drag the listener into a poignant rendition of pain and solitude.

While the general success of the album lies in its ability to capture the emotions of The Patient, tracks such as House of Wolves and How I Disappear can come off as jarring and have a tendency to sound repetitive.

Overall, The Black Parade offers an edgy, wrenching account that goes beyond a work of music and attains the status of true conceptual art. This album will either entrance you completely or repel you utterly. It succeeds in pulling the listener into the absurd realm of dying and reflecting upon one’s mortality through vaudeville elements of burlesque and black humour, and unexpected insight.

Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance)

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