The Black Parade Turns Ten

The Black Parade
The Black Parade

Illustration by Rebecca Singleton

The effect nostalgia has on art — most prominently music — is funny, and I don’t think it has ever been fully examined.

The known effect nostalgia has on your perception on any piece of art is a positive one. When children of the 70s listen to AC/DC,  they don’t listen and realize how objectively shitty it is, they just think about the good times they’ve had listening to them.

But there is another side to this coin as well. Nostalgia eliminates objectivity from your perception of a piece of art, but that doesn’t always mean positive results. Sometimes, attaching a song or an album to one specific time in your life means you can’t view it as the legitimate piece of art that it truly is.

Take for example “The Black Parade,” My Chemical Romance’s defining album that turns ten years old at the end of the week. The album was given a beautiful vinyl release for its anniversary, packaged with a collection of MCR demos titled “Living With Ghosts.” I bought it immediately despite already having a copy of the 2006 album on vinyl.

“The Black Parade” is among my three or four favorite albums ever recorded, but for many people in my age group — born in the early ‘90s — it is still considered just the music we listened to in middle school. MCR gets lost among the shuffle of Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco and Taking Back Sunday, who are all also great by the way.

As much as I genuinely like Fall Out Boy and Panic, MCR is different — you may have noticed the lack of a ten year anniversary celebration of “From Under the Cork Tree.” My Chem was headed in that direction after their breakout album “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge.” A young band that comes on the scene as part of a genre revolution, has a couple of smash singles — “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” and “Helena” — but ultimately fades away as the fad they were a part of dies.

Every popular rock band of the last six years, from the banjo-wielding Mumford and Sons to the entirely unobjectionable Black Keys are boring.

“The Black Parade” is what changed that, and what makes them still relevant to this day. It’s the defining piece from an era of music that died too quickly. It went double-platinum in the US and platinum in the UK. It saw a New Jersey pop-punk band attempt to make a rock opera equal parts Pink Floyd and Queen that would still please their prepubescent Hot-Topic crazed fan base — and actually pull it off with flying colors. For my money, it is the best rock album of the century.

To examine this claim, look not at how “The Black Parade” has influenced rock music, but instead at how it hasn’t. Guitar music in this decade sucks — especially in the mainstream. And the entire genre of 2010s rock seems directly in response to the My Chem era.

Every popular rock band of the last six years, from the banjo-wielding Mumford and Sons to the entirely unobjectionable Black Keys are boring. It’s toned-down, detached, and completely risk-free. The closest we get to truly risky, bold music is Imagine Dragons, and let’s just say there are some risks that shouldn’t be taken.

The hip, “artsy” new era of rock seems intent to directly avoid the fate that has come to Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco. These bands, both obviously silly in their earnestness, have now been reduced to nothing but a middle school dance memory and a fill-in-the-blank reference for a sitcom punchline.

Rock bands now want to avoid becoming a meme in ten years.

This can be credited partially to the fact that mainstream rock music is no longer where innovation and creativity is thriving. You can find that in pop and rap. But the reverse could be said as well. The lack of boldness and creativity from ‘10s rock has allowed other genres to take its throne. Say what you want about mid-2000s rock, but it captivated the youth of the day, and that’s ultimately what decides what music matters and what music doesn’t.

Rock bands now want to avoid becoming a meme in ten years, but if you make music with the goal of avoiding that, there is no way to find the opposite fate. “The Black Parade” lives on because MCR mastermind Gerard Way was never afraid of tumbling face first into meme-dom.

It’s how they ended up following a tight, formulaic pop song like “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” with the epic, rambling, key-change-laden piano ballad “Welcome to the Black Parade.” It’s how a pop-punk, rock opera, concept album about death ends up going double platinum. It’s how an album that’s part of a forgotten era ends up still mattering ten years later.

“The Black Parade” is beautiful and silly, overly-earnest and perfectly ambitious. It has songs like “Disenchanted” that give me the chills, “Famous Last Words” which makes me do backflips, and “Mama” which sometimes makes me hit the skip button. It’s audacious and funny and more or less perfect.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out, it’s time to be fair.

While it could be true that much of the culture at large has long moved on from My Chemical Romance because they’re blinded by nostalgia, it could be the other way around. For me, listening to “The Black Parade” is like re-watching a season of “30 Rock” for the hundredth time. Every moment feels like it is exactly where it should be, because I already know exactly where it’s going to be.

It’s impossible for me to sit here while “The Black Parade” turns 10 and judge it objectively because every second of it is already seared into my brain. It was the first album I ever bought. One time, my friends and I sat in a garage for five hours and had a scientific debate about what the best song on the album is. It’s “Famous Last Words” if you were curious.

So, at the end of the day, I have no right to pretend to be any more objective about MCR or the era from which they came than the next guy. But so much horrible music has been forced on us throughout our lives due to the powerful effects of nostalgia, it would be a shame if we didn’t give the same treatment to a truly important album which deserves to live on as long as we do.