“Let me tell you ’bout the sad man/ Shut up and let me see your jazz hands.”
Gerard Way sings that on “Na Na Na,” the first single from My Chemical Romance’s Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, and I mention it now because it’s a pretty apt summation of the entire album, a throttling 50-odd minutes of big guitars, even bigger choruses and shiny, 23rd-century synthesizers that’s long on jazz hands, fist pumps and all other manner of jubilant gesticulations, yet short on morose emotions … or, really, any emotions that couldn’t adequately be expressed without Dio-worthy devil horns or lighters thrust aloft.
And that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? Dangers Days isn’t supposed to plumb the same murky depths The Black Parade did or strike the same misfit poses as Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. If it did either of those things, it would be a rehash — and probably quite boring — and My Chem don’t do rehashes. They set the past ablaze and walk away from the pyre, stumbling off into the darkness with only the flames to light the way. This is a large part of what makes them a great band: They are fearless, almost to a fault. And Danger Days is most definitely their most fearless album, proudly — almost defiantly — kissing the past goodbye, ditching the pancake makeup and overwrought histrionics for an album’s worth of lean, mean, missile-launcher rock.
In the process, MCR have reinvented themselves too. Gone is the band with the slightly foppish Queen obsession and the soft spot for Great White Way theatrics. In their place, we get a gang of bandana-clad desert dwellers, a take-no-prisoners, dust-in-their-teeth band of outlaws, swathed in stinking leathers and reeking of sweat and blood and motor oil. At one point — during the blazing “Party Poison” — Way quotes the MC5 (“Kick out the jams!”), and it’s especially fitting here. After all, there’s no Liza Minnelli cameo on Danger Days, but there are several by a gravel-throated Gila monster named Dr. Death Defying.
To that end, there’s a wild, windswept spirit of freedom that blows through most of the album … the kind of sexualized sensation that is only unlocked by fast, loud muscle cars, chortling, shovelhead Harleys, and blood-red sunsets over wide-open highways. It’s a uniquely American thing — which is proof that, when Way told MTV News last year that MCR were falling in love with being “an American rock-and-roll band,” he wasn’t kidding — and Danger Days is a uniquely American rock-and-roll album, albeit one set in the dystopian future. It takes its cues from the MC5, the ham-fisted proto-punk of the Stooges (album-closing “Vampire Money”) and even the cocksure swagger of Guns N’ Roses (the triumphant drums and ringing acoustic guitars of “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” are a dead ringer for the opening bars of “Paradise City”).
Spiritually, Danger Days owes a lot to the work of another great American (and New Jersey) icon: Bruce Springsteen. Because, like a large portion of the Boss’ songbook, it deals almost exclusively with the romantic ideals of leaving the small town for the bright lights of the big city, magical girls with life-affirming powers and about being saved by rock and roll on a Saturday night. At various points throughout, Way declares, “You can run away with me anytime you want” (“Summertime”), “I’ve got a bulletproof heart/ You’ve got a hollow-point smile” (to a potential lover on “Bulletproof Heart”), and “When we were young, we used to say/ That you only hear the music when your heart begins to break” (“The Kids From Yesterday”). Brandon Flowers tried to do much the same thing on the Killers’ Sam’s Town album; the only difference is, My Chem pull it off. Because they’ve got the balls to. Because they’re an American rock-and-roll machine.
And yes, dealing with American archetypes is pretty easy, but Danger Days isn’t a complex album: It’s about the fast and loose joy of rock and roll played very loudly, the spiritual release of shouting along to your favorite song, the swagger of gunslingers and motorcycle gangs and sh—hot guitar solos. There’s no room for sadness or social complexities. It is loud, brash, unafraid and unapologetic, a four-on-the-floor, pedal-to-the-metal, bullets-in-the-chamber, bugs-on-the-windshield thrill ride. And, in a lot of ways, it’s the most American rock album in recent memory. Which is probably what MCR set out to do when they made it (the second time around). Of course, they had to dye their hair and fast-forward to the year 2019 to do it, but given their past, I’d expect nothing less. “We’re an American band,” they seem to be shouting, echoing the sentiments of Grand Funk Railroad. “From the future.”
What do you think of MCR’s reinvention? Let us know in the comments!