Millennial Masterpieces #9: My Chemical Romance – [Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge]

Welcome to Millennial Masterpieces, where I’ll look back at a great album released within the past 17 years and see what its legacy is. Ninth in the series is the divisive and subtly brilliant breakthrough album from My Chemical Romance, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge.

Released: June 8th 2004

“Emo” is a loaded term. Though the days of Hot Topic hair dye mall-core are long behind us, the genre is still…kind of a joke. Bringing it up in a serious discussion about its merits is difficult when the name itself is silly (let’s not even bring up screamo). Even though there are legitimately respected, critically acclaimed acts like Sunny Day Real Estate, Archers of Loaf, and Brand New, putting them under that umbrella automatically cheapens their contribution.

So imagine how hard it is to defend the acts who brought the populist version of the sound to the forefront of the music scene. Wringing any sort of appreciation out of people is nigh impossible when you utter a name like “My Chemical Romance”. Especially when said band rode the wave hard and dove headfirst into every cliche the genre had to offer. The haircuts, the make-up, the costumes, the melodrama- MCR embraced all of it unabashedly. They were exactly what all the detractors said they were, a living caricature of a teenage phase.

oh man

They were also a really, really great band who put out a really, really great rock album.

Going into their full legacy is a story for another day, but MCR were miles above their peers and plethora of imitators. Though they haven’t been welcomed into the fold of “coolness” like Brand New, they’ve still got a leg up on their buddies The Used. Perhaps it’s because they later adapted and changed their sound. Perhaps it was the audacity of the all-out concept albums that were The Black Parade and Danger Days. Perhaps it was just because they faded out gracefully rather than continue past their due date like so many other emo bands. Whatever the reason, they still hold an air of potential coolness that may one day be acknowledged by critics at large.

A cursory glance at Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge doesn’t do it any favours. The album name, art and song titles could have just as easily been thought up by any love-scorned adolescent. It’s only when you listen through it that you realize this is rock music masquerading as emo. The urgency, the fury, the hooks- this is no pity party after a breakup. It’s a Scott Pilgrim type deal where the concept of a relationship is intentionally ratcheted up to a do-or-die scenario. Gerard Way will die for his one true love, and he’s gonna prove it.

While 2006’s The Black Parade was the record that had the band blatantly making an artistic statement, Three Cheers can also be considered pseudo-conceptual. There’s a running motif of Western showdowns, with the song titles all resembling theatrical dialogue. “Give Em Hell, Kid”, “Hang Em High”, and “You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us in Prison” are all straight up cowboy themed songs, based in some Wild Wild West designed by Tim Burton. Not that any of these sound remotely close to country music-as aforementioned, this is genuine rock n roll. Frank Iero is indisputably the best guitarist to emerge from 2000s emo, his frenetic riffage and blistering solos paired perfectly with Way’s unhinged rants.

Those rants are pretty instrumental to the record as well. Gerard Way constantly sounds like he’s on the verge of a breakdown, but keeping himself together just long enough to finish the song. On some tracks he sounds like he just came in from the rain, shivering and trembling like a feral Conor Oberst. There’s no half-measures on this record; everything is cranked up to 11. A kiss is a collision, a mansion is a tomb, love is life or death- there’s no shortage of macabre, over-the-top imagery in these songs.

“To The End” is a great example of all these factors coming together. It’s hard punk with vicious guitar, but it’s about undying devotion. “The Jetset Life is Gonna Kill You” is another, but it all crescendos with the blast of sound that is “The Ghost of You”. Although most of the record is cohesive sonically, the ballad is tinged with just the right amount of reverb to give it an imposing platform of sound. It towers over the rest of the album like Sauron’s Eye, undoubtedly helped by the pit of lost souls in the bridge and the dramatic organ backing the final chorus.

Three Cheers is no regular emo record. It’s rock, punk, and metal packaged up in a compact record that thrives on melodrama. MCR’s peers should have taken notes- a little attitude goes a long way, and a lot of attitude goes all the way.

Top Three Tracks: “The Ghost of You“, “The Jetset Life Is Gonna Kill You“, “Cemetery Drive