Reflecting on: My Chemical Romance – Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge

My-Chemical-Romance_Three_Cheers

Throughout 2014, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

I was sitting in a dorm room full of friends when I first heard My Chemical Romance. “You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison” came on amidst a random playlist and I can distinctly remember the drone of conversation fading away as I focused in on the song. I was enthralled by every word.

Immediately after the track ended, I began frantically asking a friend of mine to whom the playlist belonged about the band. It turns out, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, the band’s sophomore album, had been released a couple of months prior. I quickly purchased the CD and can’t remember listening to much else during that, the fall semester of my junior year of college.

Fair warning: Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge is my favorite album. Thus, you can expect this 10-year retrospective to be full of positive reflection and nostalgic reminiscings. But more than just an album that was formative to my own taste, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge blew out what was left of the floodgates holding back emo from the mainstream.

The reasons for this appear puzzling at first, but become more evident when you dig a little deeper.

***

There’s a true duality to Three Cheers – from the outside, the album is a gritty story of death and revenge, and the band, with their dark outfits, greasy dyed hair and messy makeup, do little to draw in the casual observer. However, there’s a true motive bubbling just beneath the surface.

The band signed to Warner Bros. imprint Reprise Records after their debut, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, and hit the studio with acclaimed producer Howard Benson to record the follow-up. Benson has a track record of adding the necessary polish to push fringe rock bands over the top, making the raw sound of Three Cheers a tad suspect.

Upon further examination, it’s quite clear that a guiding hand lent aid to the band in formulating smashes like “Helena” and “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” – tracks that feature pop choruses without allowing the band to abandon their dark side. There’s a certain charisma to vocalist Gerard Way that was unleashed during the recording of this album that makes this fence-riding possible.

His seething and wailing don’t fit the typical emo mold. Instead, he pushes past those genre expectations with theatrics, something that plays right into the hands of the record itself, and something that was certainly utilized and milked for all it was worth by Benson. This isn’t a case of a band being molded into a shallow shell by a big name producer – this is a collision of two worlds, creating a greater byproduct.

Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge is as oddly accessible as it is rough around the edges. A dark, terrible tale told through a band hitting their stride while being guided toward a larger audience. The aftermath lent itself to an excess of rip offs, but none that could ever match that initial magic.

Aside from Way’s pain-filled, biting poetry, the album is filled with memorable riffs, courtesy of Frank Iero and Ray Toro’s shredding guitars while Gerard’s younger brother Mikey Way lays down brooding bass lines. Many of the album’s best moments are those that didn’t find their way to MTV: A ripping guitar solo on “Thank You For the Venom”, the chilling transition between “The Ghost of You” and “The Jetset Life is Gonna Kill You”, or Way’s haunting shrieks of, “I can’t get the blood off the sheets of my bed” that bring the album to a close on “I Never Told You What I Do For a Living”.

While the album is chock full of incredible individual songs, they are truly all parts of a greater whole. A record released in the midnight hour before digital singles and online playlists ruled the day, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge begs to be heard in its entirety, from front to back. Less a concept album, more a uniquely told story of love, death and revenge, each song tells its own chapter with its own style, ranging from punk to pop to emo to post-hardcore to gothic rock without missing a beat.

While the success of Three Cheers left My Chemical Romance as the poster boys for the new emo wave, the band was never content to fill that role. Only two years later, the band would abandon it all in favor of a new sound and look in the form of rock opera The Black Parade. After that, it was on to the brightly colored laser pop of Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys.

In that abandonment came confusion for many who assumed My Chemical Romance were exactly who they put themselves forward to be. Only in hindsight is it clear that the band itself was an exercise in experimentation – a theatrical display that had a number of very different and very unique stories to tell. Even still, the success of Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge set the stage for all of those stories to be told with an abundance of flair and pageantry.

The fact that the band was able to drench their listeners in a bucket of fake blood amidst a story of death and violence at the outset only serves to further bolster their legacy. My Chemical Romance made no apologies for who they were or what they set out to do, and in doing so, unexpectedly changed the course of the scene and lit a fire under mainstream pop.

At the forefront of it all was Gerard Way – a shy kid who spent his days drawing comic books in his parent’s basement before deciding to front his own rock band. Through the course of the band’s career, he would play several characters on stage with vigor and purpose, but perhaps none more fervent than that of the protagonist of Three Cheers – a role he played so truly that it nearly led to his own demise.

***

Shortly after hearing that first My Chemical Romance song in college, I learned through word of mouth that the band would be playing a show at a small club called The Green Door in downtown Oklahoma City in a few short weeks. The night of the show, I made the nearly-three hour drive to line up in front of the door to see the band play. They had yet to break it big, so the crowd and venue were small, but the buzz was palpable.

That evening, while standing outside the venue in between bands, someone in a jacket with long, stringy black hair and a sock cap walked up and stood next to me against the building and lit a cigarette. It was Gerard Way. We stood next to each other in silence as he smoked. I didn’t know what to say, so I simply enjoyed the moment.

He finished the cigarette, gave me a nod and went back inside. After a moment, I followed suit. I then enjoyed a wildly entertaining, intimate set from a band that would go on to be a favorite of mine to this day. The band played almost every song from the newly released Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge.

Years later, I saw the band during an arena tour after the release of Danger Days. During the set, filled with flames, lights and spectacle, I couldn’t help but remember that day in Oklahoma City where the band was just on the cusp of their breakout. I’ve loved every subsequent release My Chemical Romance created, but none do I hold as dear as Three Cheers – the one that started it all.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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