Review: Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien

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My Chemical Romance was a well-worn machine; they created magic in the recording studio and spread the credit to each member of the band. Now that they’ve separated, it’s becoming interesting and far easier to see the individual cogs that held MCR together.

I think it is safe to say that most everyone expected Gerard Way’s first solo album to be a sassy demonstration of his swagger and persona, but considering that he was really only credited with lead vocals on MCR’s albums and on stage, it’s impressive that he can write an album that is just so damn good.

Hesitant Alien sounds as though it is a natural progression out of MCR’s Danger Days; wave after wave of fuzzy guitars, heavy drums, bombardments of bass and a raging synth. There is a dynamic surf-style chord progression to the guitars that keep the songs grungy and charismatic.

This is a common thread throughout the album that makes it sound cohesive, if not slightly similar. The punk aspect that Way has been so familiar with is replaced by driving rock beats that sound more aligned with a heavy indie sound. The addition of random instruments, like a saxophone in “Get the Gang Together” just feels right with the playfulness of the music.

As someone not known for his guitar work, Way seamlessly channels the sound from verse to chorus to intricate and meaningful solos. The fuzz of the guitar doesn’t get in the way of melody or overpower the other instruments. “No Shows” has a heavy rhythm that translates to an energetic jam of an instrumental halfway through. The fuzzed power chords become incredibly soothing against the relentless drums. The bass is heavy, often equally as fuzzy and always popping at the forefront.

As with Frnkiero and the Cellabration, former MCR touring drummer Jarrod Alexander absolutely kills it. He destroys the drums with heavy beats that maintain a hypnotic steadiness that pairs perfectly with the grunge of the guitars and Way’s eccentric vocals.

Vocally, Way delivers the electric performance he is known for. He barks out sharp vocals that sound more comfortable and natural against the pop grunge guitar than the stylized punk rock of MCR. However, that may be the biggest detriment to his voice; it sounds comfortable. While his singing sounds natural and eccentric, he doesn’t seem to be pushing or challenging himself the way that his fans know he oftentimes does. However, given the work he put into writing such balanced songwriting, it’s not surprising that he wouldn’t strain his vocals as much with everything else to concentrate on.

Lyrically, fans shouldn’t expect to find the grand storytelling or deep poetic prose of MCR. These songs are whimsical and simple. They’re easy to sing along to, but don’t carry much weight past the surface level. The verses are sparse, with the brunt of the song relying on the chorus, such as the second verse of “Action Cat”, which is simply, “Every accidental damage I wouldn’t take, every heart I left behind you couldn’t break.”

There are a few charming lyrics though, but they are sparsely hidden. During “Millions”, Way sings, “You believe in love, I believe in faith. They’ll believe in anything, you make up the villains. A trillion legions of the damned and William.” Nothing deep emotionally, but it’s a line that will turn your head. Though the lyrics are pretty basic, they make some great lines to sing over the raving guitars.

Hesitant Alien is a great surprise from an artist not particularly known outside of their vocals and energetic stage performance. The quality of the writing and experimentation is beyond what I imagined Way capable of on his first go as a solo artist, which proves how little I thought I knew about the inner workings of MCR.

The energy, passion and spectacle are alive and thriving on this record. Just like he managed a little over a decade ago, Gerard Way came out swinging to prove to anyone willing to listen that he’s one of the greatest performers of this generation.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

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Review: Frnkiero andthe Cellabration – Stomachaches

 

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It turns out that the musical prowess of My Chemical Romance wasn’t a fluke. After the dismemberment of the group, the individual members have worked on their own solo material. As the first proper release from any of them, Frank Iero’s debut solo album is damn near perfect.

Frnkiero andthe Cellabration’s Stomachaches is rough, loud, expertly crafted and a reminder of just how much of a hole was left in the scene after MCR called it quits. Iero’s writing is dark, energetic and so far above the norm for the punk scene it’s impossible to imagine that there aren’t more striving to follow in his footsteps.

Stomachaches is truly a solo record; Iero recorded every aspect of it himself save for the drumming. Without the pressure of constantly living up to the standards of the last MCR record, it sounds like Iero is just having fun again. While the album is mostly an extraordinarily loud punk album, there are hints of influence from a crazy amount of bands tossed in.

The songs are simple, but layered. The guitars are insanely loud, boosted by reverb and the grunge of fuzzy power chords, but are so intricate that it sounds like a classic MCR record. They keep you guessing, as the verses aren’t muted, and then just explode on the chorus. This record is meant to be deafening, and I love it.

Iero’s bass lines are just as simple, but turned up so that no matter how loud the guitars and drums are, the bass is never drowned out. Instead, it often breaks through the layers of sound to be the stand out instrument.

“Weighted” spends its first minute as a simple ‘Scott Pilgrim’ styled bass line before the massive chorus of guitars riding the bass and steady drumming like a cranked up version of The Strokes. The inclusion of small electronic beats speeds the tempo along during the slowest part of the song. “Tragician” is an impenetrable wall of sound that at first glance seems to be incoherent fuzzed powerchords, but quickly dissolve to a berating bass and cherubic keyboards. Although most of the songs are in the same vein stylistically, they never sound the same.

MCR’s touring drummer Jarrod Alexander absolutely kills it. Although the beats are often straightforward, the power he uses to smash the kit is astounding. It sounds like he’s trying to tear the damn thing to pieces. The beats and tempo are constantly in flux and often change throughout a single song.

The emphasis of the album is obviously the music. For what it’s worth, Iero is a decent singer, but his voice is so quiet, tuned down and filtered that it makes it almost impossible to hear. I literally wasn’t able to understand any of the lyrics until I read them while listening. It’s obvious that his years with Gerard Way influenced him, as he jumps from near whispers to screaming track by track. More often than not though, he sounds like a mixture of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and the more somber moments of Brand New’s Jesse Lacey.

He sounds good against the mood of the music, but the issue is that it’s just so loud that he is drowned in it. A bit more production here would have been more satisfying, as would a bit less of the ‘coffee can’ filter, but it’s not terribly distracting. The downside though is that you truly do miss out on his lyrics unless you’re intently focused and most likely reading along to them.

Lyrically the album is quite sad. It’s classic punk/ emo lyricism without really pushing any boundaries. That’s not taking anything away from it, the songs are powerful enough to warrant the lyricism negative mood and self deprecation. On “Neverenders”, he sings, “I don’t believe in anything. I’m so sick of everything. Everybody’s got something to say and they wonder why you run away. They’re trying to steal your innocence and fill your head with their ignorance. The truth is I’m just fucking existing.”

The counter balance to this is the self awareness that justifies the attitude. The quiet and somber “Stage 4 Fear of Trying” has Iero singing, “I’ve held my doubts so close to my heart that these frames have trapped all my better days. There they stay frozen and unscathed. Though I’ve traveled far, I’ve been back to the start and I found some scars in places I have never shown to anyone. I don’t know why it took so long to get back home.”

Stomachaches is as explosive a debut for Frnkiero andthe Cellabration as anyone could ask for. The album is a powerhouse that can only be played at top volume. The songwriting is at first glance surprisingly simple, but a step back reveals just how much work went into every part. Although the vocals get lost pretty quickly, the album isn’t about that; it’s the intent of the music. Frank Iero is one of the best songwriters in the scene, and it’s not long into the album you’ll realize just how much you missed him.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.