Who says a concept album about a young man dying in a hospital room can't be as fun as a barrel of monkeys? Despite referencing chemotherapy, contusions, terrorists, and hell, My Chemical Romance's third CD, The Black Parade, is uplifting, ambitious, and at times riotously enjoyable.
The Vans Warped Tour veterans have always stood apart from the emo/screamo pack thanks to ornate guitar solos and frontman Gerard Way's cinematically inclined lyrics. But up until now, they operated in the same broad musical genre as, say, former tourmates the Used.
No longer. On The Black Parade, Way and company sound like a different band from the one responsible for 2002's I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love and 2004's platinum Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. They also sound like a better one. The Newark quintet has claimed that the CD was really made by the Black Parade, alter egos of MCR whose principal influences include Queen's A Night at the Opera and Pink Floyd's The Wall. Indeed, the grandiose lead single, ''Welcome to the Black Parade,'' wants to be a 21st-century ''Bohemian Rhapsody'' and goes some way to achieving that ambition. Opener ''The End'' is an excellent reimagining of the Wall track ''In the Flesh.'' There is more effective pop pillaging on the Blur-meets-ELO ''Dead!'' while ''Famous Last Words'' is a hopeful, unashamedly big-chorused rocker.
Elsewhere, however, the band seems to have been inspired less by great rock than the Great White Way. ''Mama,'' for example, starts with a low-key guitar-and-vocals intro but rapidly blooms into a fabulously rollicking violin-assisted shuffle so Cabaret-esque that when Liza Minnelli turns up to sing a couple of lines, it's not the least bit surprising. (But the presence of Minnelli who probably thinks screamo is a Sesame Street character is a reminder of how much the band has changed since Three Cheers. That album's most notable vocal guest was the Used's rather less grande-dame-ish Bert McCracken.) Equally theatrical and successful is ''Teenagers,'' a track that musically pays homage to T. Rex, but finds Way adopting a jauntily devilish vocal persona so reminiscent of the Artful Dodger from Oliver!, you half think he's going to launch into ''Consider Yourself.'' (Alas, he doesn't.)
Pristinely produced by regular Green Day collaborator Rob Cavallo, this album is not just the band's most adventurous but also its best. The Black Parade also strongly suggests that, like its protagonist, the ''old'' My Chemical Romance has pretty much breathed its last.