Whatever grouchy critics and snide contrarians thought of them in their mid-2000’s heyday doesn’t matter anymore. It’s pretty much accepted canon at this point that My Chemical Romance are one of the most significant rock bands this side of the millennium. And as yesterday’s teenagers become today’s arbiters of acceptable nostalgia, that sentiment isn’t going anywhere soon. Last December, the New Jersey band announced their long-awaited return since breaking up in 2013, and it felt like one of the most cataclysmic moments in recent rock history. After a decade of eyebrow-raising reunions, this was the first one that felt like it really mattered for millennials and Le Wrong Generation Gen Z kids who weren’t of-age during their Top 40 years. The band have continued to tease 2020 live dates, and they’ve also shared a snippet of new music.
For lifelong MCR fans, their reunion presents an excuse to revisit their discography and reassess their merits. However, in lieu of another list reshuffling the order of their generally-accepted best songs, this one attempts to shed light on some of the most underrated and overlooked tracks throughout their four full-lengths. These might not be the most exemplary MCR songs, or the ones you’d show someone who’s unfamiliar with the band. But for fans—casual and serious—looking for a brief guide to some of their most essential deep cuts, this list is for you.
MCR’s 2002 debut, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, is largely regarded as their weakest album. The energy and technicality of their later material is there, but many of the songs feel rather directionless and indistinguishable from what contemporaries like The Used and Thrice were doing at the same time. However, the dramatic ambition on a song like “Demolition Lovers” reeks of staying power. The six-minute closer sidewinds through half-a-dozen movements—a moody intro, frenetic verses, a breathless bridge, a metallic guitar solo and a snarling gang-chorus—before it crashes to a sudden halt. It’s a disorienting first stab at the type of compositional sagas they’d master on later recordings, but it’s absolutely brimming with potential.
The band got a lot of guff for trading their iconic breed of morose emo-rock for pastel pop-rock on their most recent album, 2010’s Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Some of that fan resentment was understandable given how much of a departure the record was from The Black Parade—the one that made them bonafide stars. However, in hindsight, Danger Days is a really strong rock album that’s arguably aged better than any of their mid-aughts hits. “DESTROYA”, which is unfortunately buried pretty deep in the 15-song tracklist, is a skyscraping bouncer that crosses Rage Against the Machine riffage with the swagger of early Cage The Elephant. It’s extremely 2010, and it sounds like nothing else the band has ever done, but it feels like a spiritual return to the freewheeling energy of Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge. My Chemical Romance’s legacy rests in their gloom and doom period, but it’s worth emphasizing that their unabashedly fun songs are some of their greatest.
“I Never Told You What I Do for a Living” is the final track on MCR’s fan-favorite Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, which is interesting because it doesn’t sound like a closer. After three gnarly pick-slides, it flings forward with all of the rubber-burning urgency of the rest of the album. Vocalist Gerard Way jolts between huffing over palm-muted chugs, singing sweatily during ballad-like choruses and screeching painfully during the track’s desk-flipping hardcore breakdown. Lyrically, the song ends with “two shots to the back of the head,” which also serves as an effective metaphor for the overeager band’s forced resignation from an album that doesn’t sound like it’s ready to end.
It’s difficult to underrate anything on an album as celebrated as The Black Parade, one of the most beloved rock records of the 21st century. However, “Disenchanted” is definitely the most overlooked of the album’s three ballads. To be fair, it’s hard to compete with the heart-shattering “I Don’t Love You” and the tear-jerking “Cancer”, and on top of that, “Disenchanted” is sandwiched between the hilarious “Teenagers” and the volcanic “Famous Last Words.” In spite of those obstacles, the defeated nihilism of its lyrics make for some of the most tragic subject matters on the entire death-centric album. With a right-hook to the rockstar facade (“I spent my highschool career spit on and shoved to agree / so I could watch all my heroes sell a car on TV”) and a gut-punching reminder of our inescapable mortality (”You’re just a sad song with nothing to say / about a lifelong wait for a hospital stay”), “Disenchanted” removes the dark theatrics and presents the futility of our reality in the body of a straightforward—and suspiciously uplifting—power-ballad. It’s one of their most poignant artistic statements.
Although Danger Days was largely a grand experiment with bright synths, dancey rhythms and bombastic pop hooks, there are a few songs on that record in which MCR return to the unambiguous pop-punkiness of their 2004 hit, “I’m Not Okay.” “Party Poison” is one of them—a bottle-smashing rager that’s littered with infectious handclaps, hollering refrains and guitar solos that could melt plastic. It’s an electrifying piece of punk rock that’s perfect second-wind fodder for when the function starts to die down, and it’s another great example of this band’s effortless transition from mall-goth archetypes to glam-rock revivalists.
Most people associate I Brought You My Bullets… with “Vampires Will Never Hurt You” and “Skylines and Turnstiles,” the latter being their ode to 9/11—the event that sparked the conception of the band. But when I think of that record, I think of its barnstorming opener “Honey, This Mirror Isn’t Big Enough for the Two of Us,” which is their first true moment of greatness. The song kicks off with a metalcore guitar lead and features all the tenants of a great MCR song: searing vocal yelps from a charmingly underdeveloped Way, scorched-earth guitar riffs, an anthemic chorus, a brief moment of soft respite during the bridge and a subsequently explosive payoff. It sounds the most like Three Cheers out of everything on this album, and it doesn’t get nearly enough credit for establishing their appeal right out the gate.
Although MCR emerged from New Jersey’s underground hardcore scene and Metallica were a noted influence on their tastes, they’re rarely commended for how downright nasty and heavy their music can be. I Brought You My Bullets… is stuffed with metalcore guitar parts, and Way screams frequently throughout their first two records, but the band are still most commonly described as a pop-punk group. They’re by no means a metal band, but the ballistic side they explore in a song like “Hang ‘Em High” shouldn’t be undervalued. This Three Cheers cut begins with a spaghetti western whistle before nosediving into hellish shrieks and pulverizing post-hardcore riffs. Way’s vocal performances on this album are exceptionally deranged, and on this track in particular, his wavering yelp is so thrillingly unhinged. For two-and-a-half minutes, the band sound like they’re going to fly off the rails and rather than regain their footing, they just let themselves wreck into a pile of cacophonous noise. It’s fucking sick.
After two albums of material like the aforementioned “Hang ‘Em High,” many MCR OG’s will argue that they lost their edge on The Black Parade. That’s not an unreasonable critique. The band definitely traded in some of their careening punk blazes to achieve the maximalist theatricality of “Welcome To The Black Parade,” “Mama,” etc. However, the ragged “House of Wolves” is one of the most exhilarating songs they’ve ever written. Beyond the crushing riffs and thunderous drums, Way uses a Southern preacher-esque delivery that’s endlessly entertaining, and the track is full of subtleties that MCR hadn’t developed yet on Three Cheers: the boisterous tongue-trill during “ashes to ashes we all fall down,” the splattering guitar lead that personifies Way’s line about blood running down the wall and the full-band synchronization when he howls, “GO! GO! GO!” They sound tighter than ever on here while also maintaining the sense of danger that made Three Cheers such a rush.
“Sleep” begins with a disturbingly manipulated vocal sample of a patient explaining night terrors so severe that they feel like their throat is being gripped. However, the song itself doesn’t possess the chaos of the one that follows or any of the other creepy cuts on The Black Parade. Instead, “Sleep” is a mid-tempo power-ballad rife with tense pianos, a monumental hook and one of the best vocal performances in the MCR discography. For the first half of this song, Way sings with immense restraint and focus, holding in his intensity until the epic buildup that arrives during the final third. As the guitars get louder and heavier, he belts, “just sleeeeeep,” until his voice becomes a pained, prolonged scream that gets wrapped up in a twisting guitar lead. It’s one of the grandest and most chilling moments on an album stuffed with that type of thing, and it doesn’t get nearly enough recognition for its majesty.
It’s absolutely insane that any of Fall Out Boy’s post-hiatus songs were radio hits but “Bulletproof Heart” wasn’t. Despite being the second song on Danger Days, this utterly soaring pop-rock song has been criminally underrated since its release. It does everything and then some that a modern arena-gazing band like White Reaper are trying to do, the difference being that MCR actually play arenas and have the opportunity to bring this type of grinning, ‘80s-aping flamboyancy to the environment it deserves to be heard in. “Bulletproof Heart” is one of the catchiest, most triumphant songs they’ve ever composed—a beaming space shuttle of crunchy riffs, voluptuous solos, ebullient synths and a hook that literally relishes in the sort of gravity-defying conviction that’s often missing in contemporary rock music. It’s the most underrated My Chemical Romance song.