Greatest Album of All Time: My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade

Peter Sloniewsky, Staff Writer

In 2006, the emo rock band My Chemical Romance set out to define the youth of a generation, a path that many similar bands at the time had taken. Unlike the others, they managed to succeed, turning to music that their parents had given them and adding themes of love and mortality that younger people can all relate to. In a rock opera similar to Pink Floyd’s The Wall and David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and including tracks similar to iconic anthems such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, My Chemical Romance assembled an album that tells the story of a lonely man on his deathbed, and that manages to, even more than a decade later, make impacts on the musical world of today.

The album follows the story of a man around thirty years old, only known to us as “the Patient,” who is dying of cancer in a hospital. The first track, “The End.,” introduces us to the character, styled after Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh?” to give us the feeling of embarking on a journey, with a dark turn. As the Patient realizes in “Dead” that there is nobody left to care for him upon death but more importantly that he will die alone, he reaches out to a long-lost loved one in “This Is How I Disappear.” This song carries an important message, that loved ones will remember us after we die, which remains prevalent throughout the rest of the album. The album turns even darker in “The Sharpest Lives,” as the Patient lays dying and searches for someone to take away the pain of death and being forgotten away. As he dies, the album reaches a peak in “The Black Parade,” a climax in which death comes for the narrator in the form of a dark parade. The track, inspired by Queen’s A Night at the Opera,  shows in a way how the Patient takes death as a relief to the struggles of life. In the album’s commentary track, lead vocalist Gerard Way said that the intent of the track was partially to explain what he imagined dying to be like, coming to you in the form of your strongest memory. The Patient’s strongest memory of life comes from seeing a parade with his father as a child, so a twisted form of that memory comes to take him at the end of his life.

Going forward, the Patient has died, and after reflecting on his past love in “I Don’t Love You” he comes to the grim realization in “House of Wolves” that he is on the way to Hell. With a track inspired by a jazz club, the Patient is reminded of the wages that sin pays.  After is “Cancer,” more reflections on his life, and arguably the second most important track on the album plays. “Mama” uses cabaret themes as the Patient not only looks back on his poor relationship with his mother, but on the dark parts of society through the character of Mother War, who marches in the Black Parade. Much darker, though, is the Patient’s realization in “Mama” that there is no Heaven, and that all of us go to Hell.  The Patient continues pondering this idea in “Sleep”, where he asks the question of what the point of living really is if we all go to Hell in the end. “Sleep” and the following track “Teenagers,” in which the Patient thinks about how he was groomed by society to be a violent individual, are filled with self-loathing as he considers his past mistakes. This is the darkest area of the album, and displays what MCR believes to be the deepest flaws in humanity and in our society.

The story takes a turn in “Disenchanted,” where the Patient is snapped back after the realizations he has madehe is moments away from death, but if he fights hard enough he will be able to return to the living. On the album’s defiant final track, “Famous Last Words,” the Patient finally acknowledges that, while life is hard, it’s worth living, and that it takes courage to go on and go home at the end of the day. The hopeful ending leaves the fate of the Patient up for debatedid he fight back to life, or accept his realizations and die peacefully with the track as his defiant shout into the void?

Overall, the album makes profound statements on the last journey we’ll all have to take, and reflects on what it means to be human. While it pulls from other great works from the time before My Chemical Romance, it has also inspired modern emo artists more than a decade later, such as Twenty One Pilots on their album Blurryface and the works of now-deceased emo rapper Lil Peep. The impact of the album is undeniable, as the songs in the album have been heard and the story experienced by virtually every teenager in the modern era, with no signs of slowing as the album ages. The themes it explores are timeless ones of love, mortality, and death, giving us ideas of how to understand the idea of the last journey we’ll all take. My Chemical Romance created in The Black Parade not only the defining album of their career, but also of a new modern emo movement and a part of musical history as they inspire not only their generation of teenagers but more to come.