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04.02.08

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Phaedra

Polarizers: To know them is to love  them or hate them.

Band of Brothers

In defense and criticism of My Chemical Romance, whose supporters and detractors alike are l

By Paul Davis


THERE ARE few modern rock bands as divisive as My Chemical Romance, but no matter what you think of the band's Thursday-cum-Queen emo-pomp bombast, 1 million My Chemical Romance fans can't be wrong. The same could be said for the 1 million MCR haters.

To get at the root of why the band is simultaneously so loved and reviled, it's worth breaking down where the band stands at this moment in musical history. My Chemical Romance liberally borrows from many generations of adolescent angst-rock, from new-model Protools emo to the conceptual pomp of Pink Floyd's The Wall , from Morrissey braying "I Know It's Over" to Rob Halford declaring he's hell bent for leather. Not the most original amalgamation, perhaps, but impressive in its ability to synthesize so many threads of teenage angst into a laser-sharp shiv of postmodern emo-punk ennui.

My Chemical Romance stand as concept-album-obsessed arena rockers; they are unapologetically bombastic, with baroque arrangements that are stunning in their audaciousness—to think of another band who has gained mass fame while walking so out of step with the prevailing sound of the time, you have to reach back over a decade to the Smashing Pumpkins, whose Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness offered an orchestral rebuke to the economical arrangements so popular during the grunge era. A perfect example of the polarizing effect of My Chemical Romance's ambitious vision can be found in the 2007 reader's poll of notorious British metal rag Kerrang! , in which the band was voted both best and worst band of the year.

What truly makes the band unique in the rock canon is the way they stand as the top-selling outcasts of the YouTube era. As anyone whose had the misfortunate of reading the preschool-level discourse of the Youtube comment section can attest to, any band as audacious as My Chemical Romance will have to endure the slings and arrows of every l33t-speaking, fulminating metalhead who sets the group in their sights. Steve Malkmus vs. Billy Corgan is nothing in comparison to the YouTube hordes vs. My Chemical Romance. The detractors are legion—the spurned fans, who believe the band has abandoned the punk roots of its Eyeball Records days, the metal die-hards who regard the band as a effete abomination, and the typical cast of would-be Louis Blacks looking for an easy target at which to direct their ire.

Of course, the band has its share of supporters as well. And those fans turn out reams of adoring prose, ornate Livejournal mash notes to leading band mates and brothers Gerard and Mikey Way, YouTube professions of love and a healthy body of fan fiction that out-weirds a fiction genre already known for its indulgences. Music blog Idolator has made a regular column out of documenting the My Chemical Romance fan-fiction community, and revealed a number of choice nuggets, including plenty of tales of incestuous brotherly love between the brothers Way that are not for the weak of heart.

The band has also accrued a less-likely pack of defenders, considering the dismal critical estimation of popular postmillennial rock music that gets played on the radio. It's been a long time since bands with critical credibility have graced the Top 10 Billboard charts—decades perhaps—and the current glut of Active Rocking Nickelbacks and Daughtrys have rendered this decade as perhaps one of the most dismal for fans of radio-slick pop-rock. With this in mind, My Chemical Romance stands out from the crowd, and the band has earned unlikely plaudits from übercritics such as the Chicago Sun-Times' Jim DeRogatis and Rolling Stone's David Fricke.

This won't silence the haters, no doubt—not the YouTube barbarians at the gate, eager to tear down the ambitious fivesome, or the American Apparel–clad hipsters who consider the band's appeal far too provincial for their metropolitan sensibilities to appreciate. There's no doubt that it's tempting to join the My Chemical Romance hate parade, but the band is not without its charms. Considering the heat of the detractors, maybe the band could use a few more defenders in its ring.


MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE appear Wednesday, April 2, at 7pm at the San Jose Civic Auditorium, 145 W. San Carlos St., San Jose. Tickets are $35.


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