FFWDing to the Best Part: “Welcome to the Black Parade,” My Chemical Romance (2006)

My Chemical Romance“Pop punk,” like “alternative rock,” is one of those spurious categories intended to convince teenagers that they’re listening to something totally different from the hopelessly lame music consumed by their parents. Punk was always pop. The Ramones clearly loved 60s surf rock, as popular in its day as any style you can imagine. The Clash aren’t far from The Who. The most popular (see?) punk bands were faster and less arranged, but no less hooky, than ELO, ELP, ABBA, REO, or any other 70s acronym band you’d care to mention. They just didn’t pouf their hair. “Pop punk” just sounds like a label for an honest punk band that knows it’s on a continuum with Justin Bieber and Barry Manilow rather than Nelson Mandella or Ezra Pound. If Dave Grohl  and Billie Joe Armstrong are happy to work with Norah Jones, on what basis should their fans draw some sharp love/hate dichotomy between their respective styles?

Enter My Chemical Romance. They’re often lumped as “emo,” but that designation seems more about style of dress and makeup, and a particular mid-00s social scene, rather than anything you can actually hear in the song. Brothers Gerald and Mikey Way joined guitarists Ray Toro and Frank Iero in 2001, got noticed on MySpace just like Colbie Caillat, had ten Alternative Rock Top Twenty hits and a revolving door of drummers, and disintegrated in 2013. But halfway from here to there, they put out a concept album. If not a musical style, punk was at least an attitude of transgression, of criticism. Punk albums were supposed to be better than the bloated rock concept albums of the 70s. What would be more transgressive than a punk concept album?

Welcome to “Welcome to the Black Parade,”  equal parts Green Day and Queen, the theme song for an album about a man who dies of cancer, and what happens next. Like many of Queen’s hits, a prelude of solo piano and vocal builds into a crescendo of lyrical guitar melodies. Then, after two minutes, the song begins in earnest with a wave of power chords. This was the same effect that Foo Fighters were shooting for with “Up In Arms,” but Grohl and Co. couldn’t think of anything interesting to do for the first, slow half of the song except play the first verse slowly and mumbly (and then play it again for real), whereas Way and Co. compose an actual prelude. (For a similarly well-executed example, see the Queeny “Some Nights (intro)” and “Some Nights” combo by Fun.)

The best part: The previously mentioned tempo kick at the 1:46 mark is fun, but the half-time switch at 3:32, leading into the anthemic conclusion, gets the honors. More bands should discover the value of tempo switch-ups, even thought it takes practice to get right and thus pushes against the amateurism that punk is “supposed” to worship.

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