29 March 2007


The Rise of Nemo
or: Why I Like My Chemical Romance

That's right, I like My Chemical Romance. I am not a teenager, though I sometimes like to pretend I am. I was going to say I don't like emo, but I do; here's why. See, 'emo' is an abbreviation of a term that was itself an abbreviation: 'emo-core'. It was short for 'emotional hardcore' ('hardcore' being the musical movement from about 1980 onwards that took the punk rock template and filled it even more generously with angst, as opposed to anything more 'gutter' that you were considering). I never really understood this term, as I thought all hardcore was supposed to be emotional. That's why it was hardcore, for Rollins's sake.

Anyway, the term was taken to refer to hardcore that had more of a sensitive side (an oxymoron?): first Rites Of Spring/Fugazi (arguably), and then more prominently the next gen of Quicksand/Sense Field/Far/Farside/everyone on Jade Tree etc.

What is funny is that, while 'emo' as an entity not only still exists, but is performing commercially way beyond what we might have thought it could a decade ago, it's not really emo at all.

Don't get me wrong; I am not a nostalgia fetishist who decries any change as wrong. Quite the opposite: The Bronx are as punk rock as NOFX are as punk rock as The Ramones. But there is something very integral to neo-emo (or, as I like to call it, 'nemo') that is just plain at odds with the emo of the past.

Older emo was, ironically, more stoical; more blue-collar. The players were often short-haired, unglamorous men who were just a tad more sensitive than, say, Agnostic Front. Of course, the scene is now about how glossy and glammy a band can be, while performing as earnestly as possible. Modern emo, with the emotional content ramped up to melodramatic, actually epic, levels is more reminiscent of eighties Hollywood rock (often pejoratively referred to as 'hair metal'. But that is a stupid term as most metal bands have hair. Especially in the eighties: don't make me bring out the massive hair pics of Pantera, Slayer or Megadeth). Both nemo and Hollywood rock are maligned, and I would suggest unfairly so.

I will say this about nemo – there is no equivalent of the incredibly brilliant eighties Guns n’ Roses. I suppose this is when I arrive at My Chemical Romance (MCR). It took me a long time to come round to this band, as I had written off mainstream hard rock/metal a long time ago as irrelevant. And let’s face it: most of it was and is. Pantera were the greatest major label metal band of the nineties. Damageplan consisted of Pantera’s guitarist and drummer, and they were woefully mediocre. Before this fact, I would have thought that the Abbott brothers could play anything and have me hurling myself at the walls in excitement.

Anyway, the day came about two years ago when someone on a message board recommended a couple of MCR songs that were not singles. Ever open minded, I looked into this and found ‘I Never Told You What I Do for a Living’. It was brilliant, and anyone into four minute rock songs should hear it. Because of this song, my resistance eroded, and I decided I liked their singles. A fan of the band?

Not quite yet. Late 2006 saw the release of their most recent album, The Black Parade. The first single from that, ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’, was a bit poor, to be honest. As I intimated in my soon-to-be-officially-unveiled Singles Premiership, it started well, ended well and kinda vanished in the middle. The bloke from the Guardian Guide had it pretty bang on when he said the intro made it sound like the greatest song in the world was about to kick in, and it ended up sounding like a McFly b-side. I wouldn’t say exactly that, as the thin guitars and snotty vocal style reminded me more of Avril Lavigne, but either isn’t amazing.

It was almost an epic by numbers: the intro chronicled grand declarations made on deathbeds and ‘seeing marching bands’. It really set the stage for something that sounded truly immense. Instead, we got the aforementioned anodyne pop punk schlock and a bowlful of disappointment. If they wanted to make this movement sound massive and still keep it chart-friendly, they should quite honestly have ripped directly off ‘Long Live the Party’ by Andrew W.K. That song was brilliant; a shining light on an otherwise disappointing record, The Wolf.

Back to ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’: while the majority of the song was an under-blown disappointment, the conclusion raised the quality level to the promise of the introduction. Still very hammy (as it bloody well should be), the closing sequence was an explosion of ramped-up jubilance. It put in my mind images of the youthful dispossessed (the titular ‘black parade’, I assume) all around the world, rising to their feet like myriad excited meerkats in the kind of union that can only be created by MCR. Or Wyld Stallyns, perhaps. It’d be like some glossy live action equivalent of the Thundercats deal where the whole team sees the Eye of Thundera in the sky and rushes into action. Sadly, what little of the promo video I have seen seemed to be nowhere near as cool as my idea.

Thankfully, the next single was ‘Famous Last Words’ and is brilliant. More of what the world was used to from the old album, but well performed and back to the angst that brought them to the dance. That’s written up in the Premiership. New single ‘I Don’t Love You’ is a power ballad of the likes not seen since the heady days of Bon Jovi (with the long hair) and Heart. And, to be quite honest, I am glad. It’s miles preferable to the anodyne cod-cool of Maximo Park, Calvin Harris or Bloc Party.

3 comments:

  1. Man, toward the end of the 90s, I got all into emo, but then got out of it just before it hit it big. Oddly, I never had a problem with the term, it describe what I was listening to perfectly, yet in a way that I could never communicate it to another person. To this day, I can hear a band, and go "Ah another emo band" but if someone asked just what it was that made them emo, I'd likely become tongue-tied and go "Well, you see it's emotional...the singer usually doesn't have that good a voice, kind of like indie rock...but louder...and not pop-punk..."

    I've kind of come around to your way of thinking on "Welcome to the Black Parade". The opening is so good, all sounding like the emo version of Queen (Queemo?), but then it kind of degenerates into a paint-by-numbers pop-punk number.

    Still, though, I think I like "The Black Parade" a bit more than "Famous Last Words" although that might be that I've never really listened to "FLW" all the way through. I do like his over-the-top deeply-pained vocals though, so I should give it a shot.

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  2. Yeah, I meant to write something about indie, but you know what stream of consciousness writing is like. That's the main reason why I can't consider nemo to be 'true' emo: modern indie rock bands have more in common with the look and feel of nineties emo than the current crop of eyeliner-wearers do.

    In fact, modern indie is essentially what would happen if The Waterboys decided to write emo albums...

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  3. caley9:53 am

    In an effort to catch up on 2K7 singles (When the heck did Ciara get so good?), I gave this one a first real listen-through and it's actually quite spectacular. If I ever get around to posting on my blog (I came close today, but lost steam trying to explain my top 20 singles of this year), you can read all I had to say. I really dig the vocals on this one, it's either the most straight-from-the-heart thing they've done, or he's getting better at faking it because those opening lines are just dripping with emotion. I also love the "I am not afraid to keep on living" chorus. It came on in the car tonight and I embarassed my brother by trying to dance (read:drive the car in time to the music) to it.

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