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Last week, we reviewed My Chemical Romance's debut record, the punk precursor to their emo takeover I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, which you can read here. The album follows the story of two "demolition lovers," who run from the authorities who are trying to capture them. In the end, he is killed and sent to hell while his lover continues to live.
Or so you thought. The narrative doesn't intentionally continue throughout the band's followup, but it certainly carries on the theme. Besides the story, Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge is a largely stronger album than its predecessor, freshening up the band's sound and moving them towards the sound they became known for.
The album generally drops the complex song structures and generally raw, abrasive nature of I Brought You My Bullets. Instead, MCR is met with an album in which Gerard Way described as "pseudo-conceptual horror story." It's largely a tale of personal disaster: the hardships of life, the struggle of love, and even the grief of losing a loved one. All of this is done with an innovative album caught in the crossfire between punk rock and the rising pop punk and emo movement.
The remnants of I Brought You My Bullets can still be found throughout the album. The most similar-sounding song is 'Its Not's A Fashion Statement, It's A Fucking Deathwish', which not-so-coincidentally was the first song written after the release of the former record. The song discusses a love that doesn't fade, whether or not it was a good or bad thing. Similar elements of the song to its precursors are its rawer guitar and forward propulsion set forward by the drumming. What makes it part of Three Cheers is its conscious sense of melody. The former had concentration on the workings of the song rather than its sound. 'Give 'Em Hell, Kid' is another track with a similar punk rock vibe, but in a much more refined way, the production of style of Three Cheers aiding it. The verses are crazy and full of surprises, the choruses strong and melodic, all leading to a giant ending. The album did earn the band a reputation, but it was this record that truly skyrocketed them.
The album's singles are also to thank for the band's popularity being sent into momentum. Listening to this album today, it's hard to not sing along to the anthemic chorus of 'Helena' that chants "What's the worst thing I can say? Things are better if I stay / So long and goodnight." It's almost as iconic as the piano intro of 'Welcome To The Black Parade', but in a sing-a-long sort of way rather than being the defining song of emo rock. The beautiful lyrics and melodies are backed by a thrilling, alternative rock instrumental. The lyrics somewhat relate to the demolition lovers, as the character reminds herself that anger won't get her anywhere past the grief of losing her lover.
The other singles also make it clear how this album was important for the band. 'The Ghost Of You' features beautifully clean and haunting verses as Way dramatically sings before the big choruses that display the refined rage and sorrow the demolition lover feels not that he is lost without his other half. The way the guitar imitates the "Never coming home, never coming home" part that still rings as powerfully as it did over a decade ago. Lead single 'I'm Not Okay (I Promise)' is a more personal track that steps away from the demolition lovers' narrative, the pop rock song tackling a very "teenage" issue: a girl who is having troubles with her boyfriend asks the narrator who is dealing with his own problems in his life, puts them aside to help her just to be ignored. The girl loves all these "deep" songs but can't see the real problems of life, as the narrator tries to explain. The true alternative rock vibe of the song was enough to burst that era into a new frontier.
On a heavier ground, 'Thank You For The Venom' was the single that showed that My Chemical Romance still had the capability to produce great, heavy tracks with a rebellious statement. The thick guitar riffs (including the one in the intro) give the song an extra thickness that the rest of the album doesn't have. It discusses fear and helplessness, as well as sending a blasting messages to record labels who don't understand that the bands want to be part of their fans, too.
It's not all black and white on this record, though. There's some moments that stand out more than others. 'You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison' starts off groovy that ends wild and rambunctiously has interesting artistic choices (especially in the second verse) and features lots of cool little moments and elements that make it unique. There's a Western-vibe to 'Hang 'Em High', likely inspired by Way's enticement with Clint Eastwood (since this song shares a title with one of his movies). The western intro is followed by thrashing guitars and drums that ultimately come together throughout the rest of the song leading to a cluster of noise in the end. It preaches that you should never stop fighting.
Three Cheers doesn't shy away from more personal and intense topics, however. A "jetset" is a lifestyle that is defined by frequent traveling and drug use. This is exactly what Gerard Way struggled with whilst touring, almost dying in Japan in 2004. This experience and coming clean led to 'The Jetset Life Is Gonna Kill You', a song that really speaks for itself once you understand the story. The rock vibe of the instrumental that sounds similar to a Weezer track acts as a support for the message and the big vocals. On another note is 'Cemetery Drive', the light melody and vibe shadowing the meaning: coping with life after a loved one commits suicide. The instrumental is great and really supports the track's lost demeanor, the chorus beautifully yet simply doing the same with its chants of "I miss you, I miss you so far / And the collision of your kiss that made it so hard."
It all comes back to the narrative of I Brought You My Bullets. Lots of tracks have references to the story: the loss of a loved one in 'Helena', the convict that is coping with failing mental health in 'You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison', and the living lover being unaware of the deal the dead one made with the devil in 'Give 'Em Hell, Kid'. The only song that fully delves into the story is closing track 'I Never Told You What I Do For A Living'. The song combines the best of the elements of I Brought You My Bullets and Three Cheers: the complex structure and the convicted vocals of Bullets paired with the power of the vocals and production style of Three Cheers makes this song a true monster.
Filled to the brim with sweet melodies, big moments, and epic screams, the song exhibits the raw emotions of the demolition lovers as the main character fulfills his deal with the devil: killing a thousand evil souls so that he can once again see his lover. The lyrics deal with how the murders slowly become justified in the name of love, the narrator asking his lover to free him from the burden. The devil tricks him, in the end: the last soul he must kill is himself, expressed in the lyrics "Down / And down we go / And we all fall down" sung in a growing rage that builds to a vicious scream, ending in the heartbreaking yet simple screams of "I tried". The beautiful clean chorus defeatedly cries "And never again / And never again / They gave us two shots to the back of the head / And we're all dead now." The lines repeat with more energy until its last repetition, sounding more like dying words than a proclamation of victory. Whether or not he gets to see his lover again is up to interpretation, but the beautiful story comes to an end here.
My Chemical Romance's romanticization of death becomes clear in this album and continues under a different light in the one that follows. Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge ends the tragic tale of the demolition lovers in a burning and vivid conclusion. I personally like to believe they did see each other again, but the devil brought them both back to hell - the last words of the album ending with a bittersweet apology to her, but a gratefulness amongst them both that they are united once again. That's the beauty of this band - they can tell a vivid story with no clear ending but still have it be a masterpiece. Three Cheers was the start of their sound's evolution and a solidification of their songwriting ability, and all of that only improved as they progressed, and we all know where they went from there.
Favorite Tracks: I Never Told You What I Do For A Living, The Ghost Of You, Helena
Least Favorite Track: Interlude
Rating: 91 / 100
Concept albums are great in theory, and often times prove to be phenomenal in execution. When an album has a narrative or an overarching story or meaning, it's so easy to get invested in them and engrossed in its message as if you were reading a novel. The best examples in recent times are Dream Theater's The Astonishing, a dystopian tale of love and war, and Muse's Drones, a commentary on the increasingly heartless ways of drone warfare. Sure, we don't have any legendary concept albums like Pink Floyd's The Wall knocking at our doorbells every year, but there are still definitely standouts that show up.
Of course, on the other side of things, there will be flops; and trust me, there are few things worse than a failed concept album. Unfortunately, that's what experimental hip-hop clipping. has achieved with their newest record, Splendor & Misery.
It went for something interesting, and it deserves at least that much credit. It's story follows the sole survivor of a slave rebellion that's traveling through space on his Interstellar cargo ship. In his thoughts of loneliness (besides the ship's computer that has fallen in love with him), he discovers music in the ambience of the ship's creaks and shudders. Unlike the classic representations of anthropocentric insignificance in the face of an endless space, the main character finds comfort in knowing there's an infinite realm of possibility ahead of him, without the pressures of mankind bearing down on him.
While the story may seem fresh, the music that tells it really isn't. In an album of fifteen tracks, it's split almost half and half - eight "proper" tracks and seven interludes. The interludes add up to pretty much nothing more than unneeded ambience. The intro track 'Long Way Around (Intro)' hypes up the record nicely, segues into a confusingly fast verse (not in the line of Eminem, but more in the line of someone reading an instructions manual really fast) that is all of 'The Breach' before the first real track begins, and it's really underwhelming. 'All Black' sounds like somewhat of a mission objective being explained, and at six-minutes long, it just drones on and on.
There are some good moments on the record, but most are ultimately ruined by something in the end. Take 'Break The Glass' for example, it's a pretty solid track with a haunting instrumental (sounds like that's the engine room of the ship) and distorted verses that build up into an almost industrial rap track. Of course, they had to end it with an ear piercing screeching that is pretty painful to listen to, but at least the meat of the song is good. There are some great gospel moments on the record too, but they're used as individual tracks, and I have absolutely no idea how they fit into the album. 'Long Way Away' and 'Story' are the tracks that consist of these. 'Long Way Away' eventually distorts into white noise while 'Story' follows the piercing noise at the end of 'Break The Glass'.
The only track on the album that really doesn't have a problem surrounding it is 'A Better Place'. It's the album's closure and it feels like an appropriate ending to the narrative and the record. It's upbeat with its proud organs and vocals, resonating hope and an challenging disposition to the frontier ahead of the escaped slave. It's a shortlived victory, though, since the album ends right as it gets off onto a good footing.
Perhaps a concept album just wasn't the right move for clipping. It's interesting to see that the group that usually raps about monotonous stories of living in the hood can branch out into this weird, afrofuturistic story about escaping the world. Granted, the music doesn't really support the effort put that narrative. No tracks really do well as a standalone item, and few of them actually do well in the context of things. But hey, they tried, right? Can't fault them there.
Favorite Tracks: A Better Place, Break The Glass, Long Way Home
Least Favorite Tracks: EVERY Interlude.
Rating: 30 / 100
As civilization moves ever further into the era of technology, we begin to make everything mechanical. Including ourselves. The creation of drones allows for silent murder - the controller sitting behind a monitor, aiming their strike on their target. The controller of the drone is influenced by its handler, and so forth. Everything has become so monotonous, so controlled and contrived, as far as to say we have become so dead inside that killing is just another check off of the to-do list.
Muse explores this concept with their latest album, Drones, a concept album exploring the journey of a protagonist trapped in a world like this (that is, a more acute approach on the whole “mechanical killing” world than ours is at the moment). It follows a vivid story, from losing all emotion, to becoming a human drone, to fighting against the system, and ultimately finding love again despite being broken down so many times.
1) Dead Inside: I’m not afraid to admit that I was skeptical about this one at first. Muse had been promoting a “back to basics” and “heavy, guitar oriented” album and had released ‘Psycho’ only a short while before. Then they dropped ‘Dead Inside’, which is almost the opposite of what everyone expected. This song, has, however, REALLY grown on me. The funky sound is great and the U2-esque breakdown is just beautiful. You can really hear the emotion in Bellamy’s vocals in this one. The story is introduced in this song, giving an insight to how the protagonist has reached this point in his or her life: they lose hope and all concept of love. This makes them vulnerable, for what comes next... 9/10
2) [Drill Sergeant]: Nothing much to say about this one. It almost feels unnecessary, nothing much other than a drill sergeant yelling at the next “super drone”. It doesn’t deserve a 0, though. It builds up the hype for one of the biggest moments on the album... 5/10
3) Psycho: That goddamn riff. I still remember blowing up when the famous “0305030″ riff that has been a staple riff to jam to live after the likes of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘Map Of The Problematique’ had finally become its own song. While the instrumentation really, really brings out the best in this song, it’s hard to say the lyrics are particularly good. You have to understand the perspective of it, first, before making a judgement on the lyrical content: the drill sergeant. In this song, the drill sergeant is drilling these thoughts that the protagonist is nothing more than a killing machine. “Your ass belongs to me now” does have its own charm, though. Can’t have a good album without the one meme-generating moment, can you? As a whole, the song grooves throughout, keeping the listener bobbing their head and ready for the riff to kick back in. The brass being brought to the front in the final chorus is a great moment, too. 8.5/10
4) Mercy: At this point in the story, the protagonist realizes that they’ve lost something. Theirself. They become aware of what has become of them after the brainwashing in ‘Psycho’, and beg for mercy (who’d have thought?) against what they’ve become. Sonically, this song is comparable to Black Holes & Revelations’ ‘Starlight’, albeit heavier in many ways. Muse’s synth arpeggios return in a big way on this track, a welcome element in any Muse song. Admittedly, like ‘Dead Inside’, this track took a bit of growing on me. Everything feels in place and adds to a very enjoyable listening experience before the truly heavier parts of the album kick in. 8.5/10
5) Reapers: This is what Muse fans were waiting for. It’s like a wonderful mashup of the rocking of Absolution, the electronics and vocoders of The 2nd Law, and just pure rock ‘n’ roll. The song begins with an awesome tapping riff intro and progresses into an onslaught of pedals and modulation on the guitar end of things. Bellamy really shines with his falsettos during the choruses. The massive outro cannot be overlooked either - one of the most memorable (and jam-worthy) parts of the album. Muse meets Rage Against The Machine! Thematically, the protagonist realizes the truth behind the mindless killing and the danger and brutality behind it. 9/10
6) The Handler: Muse? Progressive rock? Well, hello there, Origin Of Symmetry. With an absolutely crushingly huge riff in to kick this song off (the Drop D is strong with this one), you know from the get-go that you’re in for a monster song. The chorus is everything Muse should be - heavy, falsettos, you name it. The bridge is reminiscent of another relatively-heavy Muse song, In Your World. No complaints there. The quantum entanglement with ‘Showbiz’ from the band’s debut album right after the bridge is an incredible moment, sends chills down my spine. Another “ah-ha!” moment: “behold my trance formation.” Oh Matt, how clever you are. Doesn’t make much sense, but points for trying and admittedly posing an interesting play on words. The protagonist no longer wants to be held down by the controlling, and seeks rebellion. Ultimately, this is my favorite song on the album, nearly beat out by ‘The Globalist’ because of that bridge, but we’ll get into that later. 10/10
7) [JFK]: Finally, treading into some unmarked territory. Unless you watched the leaked “Making Of:” featuring ‘Defector’ and ‘The Globalist’, for which I’d scold you for, but that’d make me a hypocrite. The song features a speech by President John F. Kennedy regarding the spread of communism, which carry a relevant meaning in today’s society, not necessarily to the intended message. According to Mr. Bellamy, the track, “...talks about the human spirit, freedom, and independence...” and “where everything transitions.” Accompanied by a lovely string version of the ‘Defector’ solo, this song is very beautiful. 8/10
8) Defector: Based on prior reviews of the song, no one expected this one to be as good as it is. Muse meets the grandiose of Queen meets the riffs of AC/DC. Bellamy preaches, “Free / Yeah I’m free / From SO-CIE-TEE!” in the most operatic way possible while still remaining subtle and massive at the same time. A chorus of a thousand voices, if you will. The solo utilizes some Whammy pedals, which is also welcome. The riff comes in pretty big, too! The protagonist begins to realize their freedom in this portion of the story. 9/10
9) Revolt: It’s hard to not associate this song’s melody to an 80s sitcom. It just fits so perfectly. This one also didn’t immediately bring me in, but I was hooked by the end. The song is built on charm and some heavy powerchords. Bellamy does great vocal work here. That falsetto coming out of the bridge is phenomenal. Nothing much more to say about the sonic elements of this song! Here, the protagonist encourages others around him to stand up against the system and find back. 8.5/10
10) Aftermath: You couldn’t have prepared me for how beautiful this song ended up being. An ambient journey where you can feel the dramatic atmosphere of the aftermath of war. Amidst the destruction and strife, the protagonist finds love again - the opposite of what ‘Dead Inside’ brought to the plot. This song is so serene, imagine Hendrix ft. an Italian Orchestra. In Muse-terminology, imagine ‘Blackout’ meets ‘Hoodoo’. Simply fantastic in every regard. 9.5/10
11) The Globalist: Ask any Muser what song they weren’t prepared for on Drones. It’s ‘The Globalist’. The claimed sequel to the beloved ‘Citizen Erased’ and a ten-minute odyssey of progressive rock. While a sequel to ‘Citizen Erased’ only in that it feels segmented into “parts” (it’s more of a heavier sequel to ‘Explorers’), it still a massive track. The symphonic intro akin to Ennio Morricone’s ‘L’arena’ builds a beautiful and haunting image building up to Matt kicking in with the vocals. The first part of the song (up until 4:28) is a beautiful dream, and suddenly, the ‘Helsinki Jam’ riff kicks in full force. It’s in your face and the operatic backing adds to the intensity. It all counts down into the heaviest territory Muse has ever delved into with a Spanish-esque guitar solo that breaks down into a piano ballad. Wild from start to finish! The story of this song is almost separate from that of the entirety of Drones - perhaps it acts as a backstory of sorts. It is its own narrative on the rise and fall of a dictator. ‘The Globalist’ ends with the thought-provoking lyrics, “I just wanted, / I just needed to be loved.” All a dictator ever wants is some attention. Before you can ask for more, the song ends just as subtly as it began, leaving you reconsidering what rollercoaster you just experienced. 10/10 (note: it COULD have been a smart move to split this song into two separate songs, but I’m not complaining.)
12) Drones: Nothing more than a beautifully layered a cappella track featuring Bellamy sending off the album in a sort of prayer. It’s a statement on the casualties of this war of drones - the voices of those who perished and those who will be forgotten without justice. It’s pretty dramatic, really: they’ve been killed by this machine of a human, who had no empathy towards them as they pushed the shiny read button. A big statement on what war has become, and what it can and will evolve into, should we continue in this direction. The album concludes on one final “Amen” as the story comes to a close. The album could not have ended on a more perfect note. 9/10
Muse delivered one monster of an album, fulfilling their promises in more ways than one. They returned to the basics of who they were: guitar driven songs, synth arpeggios and pianos splashed here and there, and grandiose melodies driven by huge choruses. Sure, it may not be as fine tuned or revolutionary as Origin Of Symmetry was, but, then again, can it be? This album combined the best of what Muse had to offer throughout their career, and I couldn’t ask for anything more out of this album. It told a story and made its mark on society. Here come the drones!
Favorite Tracks: The Handler, The Globalist, Aftermath, Reapers, Dead Inside
Least Favorite Tracks: [Drill Sergeant]
Overall Rating: 9.5/10
My Top 10 Albums of 2015:
- Muse - Drones
- 10 Years - From Birth To Burial
- Fall Out Boy - American Beauty / American Psycho
- Halestorm - Into The Wild Life
- Zs - Xe
- Joey Bada$$ - B4.DA.$$
- Purity Ring - Another Eternity
- Liturgy - The Ark Work
- Lightning Bolt - Fantasy Empire
- Kamasi Washington - The Epic