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Vinyl Sessions: My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade

This week's Vinyl Sessions is curated by Ethan. 

Vinyl Sessions running order:
Album playback
Q&A session
short break
'Dead'Wax' session - bring along a vinyl disc of your choice and hear a track from it played through the venue PA. This can be anything you like, for any reason – the more ‘out there’ the better. 

The bar is open throughout. 
Doors 12pm, Starts 12.30pm 
Tickets £3

An album for teenagers.

Those words sounds like an insult. When written in a music magazine or blog, they often are. And yet, think about how many albums now considered to be cast-iron classics were first embraced and obsessively listened to by adolescents in their bedrooms. The words and instrumentation speaking to them, and only them, while family members banged fruitlessly on the door, shouting for them to ‘Turn it down…’

Let’s not kid ourselves. Every great era of popular song from rock ‘n’ roll onwards has relied on teenage tastes to gain initial traction before eventually commanding the attention of the public at large. The ‘problem’, if you can call it that, comes when an album commands that teenage adoration in the bedrooms of those ugly new houses (as the lead singer of a certain Manchester band once adored by teens put it) and then stays there.

So, ‘The Black Parade’ by My Chemical Romance, then. “‘Black Parade’ – we, the discerning older listeners, put it to you that you are too emotionally available. Too histrionic. Too uninhibited. Too gauche.” “Yeah. And?” “But it’s too much.” [Smiles] “It’s not enough.” ‘The Black Parade’ comes barrelling out of the traps, seizes the listener with bug-eyed urgency and insists for the next 50 minutes, ‘You must listen. You can’t not listen.” 

My Chemical Romance’s third record is an ambitious concept album built around the memories and recollections of ‘The Patient’ – a young man diagnosed with terminal cancer, who ‘dies’ and crosses over to the land of the dead where he reflects upon the experiences, regrets, comforts and unfulfilled promises of his short life.

The album’s central story was largely devised by vocalist Gerard Way, the titular ‘Black Parade’ inspired by his belief that when death comes for you, it will assume the form of your most vivid childhood memory – which in The Patient’s case, was being taken to see a marching band by his father, now rendered in a monochrome purgatory as The Black Parade.

Given the album’s arresting themes and lyrical imagery, it’s only fitting that the music conjured up by the rest of the band is a full-throttle stew that takes in Queen’s genre-hopping maximalism circa A Night at the Opera, the apocalyptic fantasies of Ziggy Stardust, the portentous theatricality of Wall-era Pink Floyd and numerous nods to noisy, edgy bands with adolescent appeal through the decades – everything from The Doors to Black Sabbath, Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. As guitarist Ray Toro would later explain some time after the album’s release, “The intention was to make something that was classic, something timeless. Something that 20 or 30 years from now, parents could play for their kids and say, 'This is what I was listening to when I was your age. Check it out, it’s still cool.' We wanted to make a record you could pass down. There’s a lot of music out now that doesn’t feel like that."

He had a point. Post-emo, mid-heavy sonic production aside, the album was something of an anomaly upon its release in 2006, at a time when the wider music industry was very much in flux. The fallout of the industry’s ‘selling records on bits of plastic’ business being blown up at the hands of Napster several years earlier was still being felt, to say the least. Quite apart from the pressing financial concerns this presented, there seemed to be a growing acceptance that music fandom was going to become increasingly atomised over the coming years. With so much music available from so many artists so easily, it was inevitable that any sense of an alternative musical monoculture was going to fracture.

In place of mass audiences reached via TV appearances and magazine articles there would instead be a plethora of niche scenes existing side by side, with ardent genre adherents at their centres and less committed fans drifting in and out at the edges. When looked at in this context, you could make the case for ‘The Black Parade’ as being among the last of a dying breed – the big budget, intricately produced rock-derived record that happens to catch on with a much bigger audience than its creators might have previously expected. It even spawned an unlikely UK Number 1 single, after the track ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ was picked up by Radio 1 – where its Brian May-aping harmonised guitar attack, multiple movements and decidedly goth lyrical preoccupations rubbed up awkwardly alongside the hits of the day from the likes of Nelly Furtado, Amy Winehouse, Coldplay and The Kaiser Chiefs.

It was something that seems impossible now – a commercially successful cult record that sold over 3 million units in the US and at least a million in Europe. Though if it wasn’t for the rapid fragmentation of rock and pop audiences spinning up around the time the album came out, it’s entirely possible that it could have sold even more. As it stands, though, the people the album found seemed, for the most part, those who really needed it. The broken. The beaten and the damned.

If The Black Parade was there for you when it mattered most, and if you’re happy and willing to share, then come on in. The emo-prog-pop-goth-punk water’s lovely. 

Doors 12pm, Starts 12.30pm 
Tickets £3

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