The mid-2000’s was the last true golden age of popular rock music; a brief, ridiculously giddy moment in which rock bands shed off the creative straightjacket of “alternative authenticity” and fabricated the kind of overblown, heart attack inducing, melodramatic teen operas the genre was meant to make in the first place. Albums such as A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, American Idiot, and Sing the Sorrow dramatically mashed together the fury of hardcore punk, the grandiose sentimentality of Broadway showtunes, and the morbid decadence of Eighties New Wave Goth into a sound that was as contradictory as it was intoxicatingly thrilling. Few albums perfectly capture this period better than My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade a shamelessly ridiculously rock opera of emo-kitsch and pompous ideas that has held up as perhaps the strongest of its era.
Built around the bleak concept of a dying cancer patient. The record blasts off with the one, two theatrical punch of alum openers “The End” and “Dead!” and doesn’t let up from there. The band barely contain their ambitions, packing in as much Burton-esque atmosphere, indie-emo dramatics, glam metal riffs and cabaret cheese as they can muster into a mere thirteen tracks of music. This overreach is the key to the album as the sheer “muchness” of its sound prevents it from coming across like critic pandering phony “tastefulness.” Simultaneously, they’ve learned enough from their time in the New Jersey underground to know to trim down their ideas, keeping the tune length compact and tightly focused. This grants the album the heady rush of rule breaking, as the orthodox traditions of punk and pop are broken and twisted so thoroughly that the boundaries between them are disassembled.
That sense of youthful glee bleeds into the best of the internet era rock albums, and here this sense of humor softens the sadness of the concept, positioning the record into the sweet spot between angst and joy. This tendency to dance between this abyss lend the record its emotional wallop, it deals with the very human struggle with mortality, but with enough of a smirk to make it seem less overwhelming. The best songs suggest this dichotomy; “I Don’t Love You” depicts an unhealthy relationship in the form of a warm post-punk ballad, “Teenagers” channels post-Columbine fear into a schoolyard singalong, and “Welcome to the Black Parade” is the most colorfully brilliant, showstopper of an emo-pop single to ever hit the Billboard top 10.
While to some, The Black Parade’s almost Wagnerian take on Scene era angst relegates it to the value of kitsch for edgy teens, these same values also grant it an exultant quality. Compared to the self-serious art-rock critics pretend to love, The Black Parade’s overcharged melodrama has a Dionysian charm that is infectious, transporting the listener to the hypnotically hyper-realistic reality of teenage emotions made manifest. Like the best works of art, it works because of its artificial aesthetic rather than in spite of it.