We have for some time, suspected that My Chemical Romance’s musical influences were much more than guitar riffs ridden with teen angst and emotional instability. From moments hinted on Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge to the rather bombastic leadoff single from The Black Parade, it would seem that the members of the band spent as much time listening to Aerosmith, David Bowie and Queen as they did their punk rock. Any doubt can be put to rest on the band’s foray away from their past- their terrifically outlandish, operatic rock theatre Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys.
As the title would imply, the band have not let go of their conceptual theatrics. Their earliest incarnations (their overlooked debut I Bought You Bullets) had already envisioned Bonnie & Clyde narratives, and their latest is probably the most adept telling of the vast, graphic novel universe the members of the band spend much of their creative time in. Danger Days, about the lives of these so-called Killjoys, is glittering dance-infused rock that parlays its love of synthesizers and melody into the best Ziggy Stardust-penned-Steven Tyler-sung songs done with an added sprinkling of Freddie Mercury bravado.
The Killjoys are battling the Draculoids and Better Living Industries, and this galactic-themed conflict unfolds by way of anthemic, call-to-arms rock (“Na Na Na”), angular textures (“Party Poison”), dance-tinged (“Planetary GO!”) pieces that all build up to the stadium-sized side of the rock palette. Songs like “The Only Hope For Me Is You”, “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” and “Summertime” all sound like a Liv Tyler/Alicia Silverstone starring music video, cut from the same mold as the Three Cheers track “The Ghost of You”. Gerard Way’s croon is now far more refined, less angry, and these mid-paced songs benefit from the new vibrant tone. It makes the band come across as far less frenzied than they did on tracks like “Thank You For the Venom” and “Cemetery Drive”, and depending on who you ask, is the band cultivating a new sense of finesse.
The tracks are interlaced with the radio broadcast from the album’s “host”, a Dr. Death Defying, narrated very much like the 1979 film The Warriors. And like the film, Danger Days is a colorful climax of character and weirdly wonderful imagination. Most of it is seamless, but there are a few glaring missteps. “Na Na Na”, while musically sound, does come across as more of a throw away single and tracks like “DESTROYA” and “Vampire Money” do not fit the mold of a band forging new ground. The formatting of these song titles (“S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W”?) begs a lot questions too, less a mature simplicity and more of a bored high teenager scribbling in their notebook. Most notably, the inclusion of the “Star-Spangled Banner” done by marching band in “Goodnite, Dr. Death” is inexcusable.
Critics have taken much time to exercise their displeasure in My Chemical Romance’s musical identity in the past. It’s easy to hate something so “blatantly emo” and to cast a net over larger social issues by pointing the finger at tangible targets. But My Chemical Romance have never once wavered from being themselves. So what happens now when the band’s acclaim is more deserving than ever? When we all realize that Danger Days is the sound of a band finally shedding the burden of an entire genre, we will see that My Chemical Romance have been having the last laugh for a very long time.
And as Way closes the chapter of their past in the very apt “The Kids From Yesterday”, singing with great reflection;
“You only live forever in the lights you make / When we were young, we used to say / That you only hear the music when your heart begins to break / Now we are the kids from yesterday”
It is the final salute in what sounds like, and feels like, an honest turning of the page. And if you do in fact, “live forever in the lights you make”, then their lights, for now, shine the brightest.
(Reprise / Warner Bros.)
Alice Cooper – Breadcrumbs EP
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper
For a large number of Alice Cooper fans who didn’t experience everyone’s favorite snake-adorned shock rocker at the height of his powers through the ’70s, most probably were introduced to Cooper through 1989’s hair-metal infused generational breakout album Trash. That was at least, my introduction to Vincent Furnier, at the age of 9 years old, seeking for something to satiate my love of hair metal and shock rock. Trash was everything Bon Jovi’s New Jersey was- big, radio-friendly- but had that added sense of danger and darkness that didn’t come with the pretty side of hair metal. However, as sure as songs like “House of Fire“, “Bed of Nails“, and the ubiquitous hit “Poison”, are still great today, long-time Alice Cooper fans know that Cooper is at his most enthralling is when he taps into his garage rock lineage, cut from the same mold that was paved by bands like the MC5.
So for those born in the early 80s like myself, the initial foray into the world of Alice Cooper meant that you had to work your way back into this long-running discography to find the rich, often timeless work Cooper is best known for. In 2019 Alice Cooper himself is working his way back on his latest EP, the aptly titled Breadcrumbs. The 6-song EP finds Cooper revisiting music and artists connected thematically by what ties them all together- the Motor City. This Detroit-centric EP features Alice Cooper’s take on songs by Suzi Quatro, The Dirtbombs, Motown soul singer Shorty Long, and of course, The MC5 (the EP also features guest guitar and vocal work from Wayne Kramer). Included in the mix are a reworked version of the 2003 Alice Cooper song “Detroit City” and one new cut, “Go Man Go”.
On his reworked “Detroit City”, the song is given a rawer makeover, sounding far less produced than the original. Gone are the orchestral overdubs with the song relying more on the loud bluesy guitars- perhaps the way it was meant to sound. Suzi Q’s “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” stays fairly faithful to the original, but Quatro’s vocal sneer is replaced with.. well, Alice Cooper’s vocal sneer. MC5’s “Sister Anne” is almost as great as the original 1971version, with the added benefit of today’s production qualities.
The EP’s one new track, “Go Man Go”, is very much Detroit, and very much Alice Cooper. It’s rock n’ roll roots are coated with a little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of garage, a lot of attitude. Like this EP, the track should be a precursor of Alice Cooper’s anticipated next album. The hope is that he continues this work of keeping things dirty rock n’ roll as the results are more often than not, pretty great.
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper. Breadcrumbs is a noble effort meant to tease and build anticipation than satisfy your craving for all new Alice Cooper material. It’s done just that, hinting at what could be around the corner. On top of which it shows that there are few rock stars who will ever reach the status and longevity of everyone’s favorite rock n’ roll snake charmer.
Goo Goo Dolls – Miracle Pill
The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good
One of the most remarkable things about the Goo Goo Dolls is their steadfast consistency amongst the ever-changing backdrop of popular music. Six years ago when they released Magnetic, I wrote that the band remained unchanged in the face of their supposed “waning popularity” in the eyes of pop culture and radio charts. It’s true that many of their contemporaries that made it big alongside them in the late 1990s are long gone, but for the Goos, they’ve quietly continued to be above everything else, themselves, just older, wiser, and continuingly more refined. Miracle Pill is their 12th studio album and is the natural progression from 2016’s Boxes. Like their previous release, Miracle Pill continues their musical evolution away from alternative rock to the more serene territory of adult contemporary. Sure, it may sound like a bad thing, but like everything the Goos have done over the past 25 years, it’s supremely confident and composed.
They may not write songs with the caustic bite like “Here Is Gone” anymore, but they have been finding comfort in the more introspective pop-strewn melodies found in songs like “Lights”. Similarly, in the new album’s lead single and title track, the Goos tap into bouncy, easy-to-digest pop empowerment. Songs like “Indestructible” show that the band haven’t put down their guitars just yet, constructing songs that are still fond of their alternative rock roots but have found comfort in grander, more expansive sounds.
The album’s best moments are when the Goo Goo Dolls unashamedly tug on the heartstrings like they’ve done so many times before. The quiet jangly nature of “Over You” does this particularly well, while the bigger, electronic-infused arena rock of “Lost” shows that this type of music is just done extremely poorly by bands like Imagine Dragons. “Autumn Leaves” is a throwback to the kind of songs found on Let Love In and Dizzy Up The Girl, sounding organic and wistful, while the closing of “Think It Over” is the kind of song they’ve been hinting at since Something For The Rest Of Us. It’s part quintessential Goos, but contemporary and timeless at the same time.
Credit to the Robby Takac songs of the album too- “Step In Line”, “Life’s a Message”- both some of the finest songs Takac has written. He is often cast in the shadow of John Rzeznik’s more recognizable sound, but on Miracle Pill, his work is the best its sounded since Dizzy.
The Ringer recently wrote a piece titled ‘The Goo Goo Dolls Were Never the Cool Kids, but They’re Still Standing’. I echoed these sentiments in that Magnetic review years ago, but if there was anything long time Goo Goo Dolls fans know is that the band were never concerned about popularity or being “cool”. The problem with being cool in music is that it fades. The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good. Not much has changed in that sense, and really, that’s much better than being cool.