The recent announcement of My Chemical Romance’s split will, I’m sure, see wine glasses filling with the tears of the mall-punk generation, of which your humble writer was a conscientious objector. In his seminal work Dispatches, Michael Herr wrote that “Vietnam is what we had instead of happy childhoods.” My generation, in a stark and probably fortunate contrast, had emo.
Or is it screamo? Post-hardcore? Pop punk? Alternative!?
Being a compilation of previously unreleased tracks, it would be a waste of time to judge this sub-album on cohesiveness or to even put it in any kind of context where it can be judged on its own merits as a whole. The band released the tracks two at a time as double A-sides each in their own fancy schmancy packaging. Thus, any kind of analysis one attempts has to judge the songs on their own individual merits.
And, if I’m being frank, the merit is rather lacking in these ten songs that the band recorded before their last album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Yes, something is called that.
Far be it for me to shit on a band for being able to mobilise teen angst the way that MCR do. It certainly requires a degree of skill and a disciplined knowledge of your own strengths as a band. MCR do what they do extremely well. Singer Gerard Way in the role of damsel in distress is an act worthy of acclaim and the band are good at making equally neurotic music that compliment Way’s high school daydreams.
“If all my enemies threw a party / Would you light the candles? / Would you drink the wine? / While watching television?” The opening track “Boy Division” is a schizophrenic plea for help or salvation or something. A plea, certainly. “Say a prayer for California” sings Way in his snot-nosed melody. If there’s one thing music needs, it’s more references to California.
“Tomorrow’s Money” kicks off in perfectly enjoyable fashion. A Mudhoney meets surf rock track that edges you closer to the mosh with each bar. But as is the maxim with bands like MCR, you can’t have too much of a good thing. They continuously rob you of your good time to drop a staccato-rhythm chorus that no one asked for. But that’s to be expected when your influences start at Queen and end at Green Day.
Speaking of Queen, the opening of “Ambulance” is torn straight from the Freddie Mercury playbook, sounding almost exactly like “Somebody to Love.” This is quickly joined by more immaculately-produced ProTools-cued instruments. ‘You don’t know a thing about this life’, it announces. But what if we do? What then? What are your existential platitudes worth in change when they’re exposed to the light of an intellect that’s weaned on more than The Downward Spiral and Chuck Palahniuk? “The World is Ugly”, yet another illumination from My Chemical Romance.
Josh Homme once said that thinking of concept albums brings to mind two things: “pudding” and “fucking lame.” Much as I concur, I would amend that list to include a third thought: contrivance. Of course, you can’t have a concept without contrivance, but when it comes to music – you know that stuff where Mohammedan angels transcend the celestial planes and sweep you up from your bedroom floor to cradle you in the majestic bosom of the universe? – it’s a slippery slope. The narrative voice of the singer becomes highly suspect and you begin to wonder just which character he’s channeling in a particular song.
While you can’t have too much of a good thing, you can have a lot of a mediocre thing. “The Light Behind Your Eyes” proves this. Way stumbles ass-backwards into a metaphor he finds poetic and turns it into a nauseating litany without any recess for the listener to evacuate the bile that rises inside them.
Some might argue that I’m being harsh. Conventional Weapons is a fan release not intended to be listened to by anyone who isn’t already in possession of a black hoodie with the cover of Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge on the back. It’s not supposed to be quality. In that case this cash-grab isn’t only aesthetically abhorrent but also morally unsound. But that’s not even my issue. My Chemical Romance embody what Henry Rollins aptly called “musical miasma.” The guy at Subway doesn’t care about your sandwich and the girl at Starbucks doesn’t give a fuck about your coffee, they’re just trying to get through the day. My Chemical Romance are a band just clocking in but what’s worse is they try to hide it behind melodramatic, over-conceptualised dramatics, sweeping their shitty job under the rug.
Hatchie – Keepsake
Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars
Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.
There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.
However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.
The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.