Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
Corrupt, totalitarian regimes and post-apocalyptic landscapes have proven to be fertile fields for science fiction movies for decades and, as of late, for the rock bands Green Day (21st Century Breakdown) and Muse (The Resistance). Now add My Chemical Romance to the list.
It's been four years since the native New Jersey emo/goth kings (most of whom now live in L.A.) earnestly explored a man's terminal struggle with cancer on The Black Parade. Now Gerard Way and his bandmates have traded earnest for absurd. It's 2019, seven years after an environmental catastrophe has devastated the globe. Ruling what remains is an eeeeevvvviiiillll company with an appropriately Orwellian moniker: Better Living Corporation. Its nefarious agents, the Draculoids, pursue our antiheroes, an underground band called the Killjoys.
The result is a cartoonish, punk-rock roller coaster of an album that zigs and zags wildly through a loose narrative in which the Killjoys playfully foment anarchy and ponder the likelihood that their highly romanticized, Western-meets-sci-fi resistance won't have a happy ending.
The album's first single, "Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)," suggests that resisting evil and changing the world require personal sacrifice ("Everybody wants to change the world/But no one, no one wants to die/I wanna try"). "Sing" counsels hanging on to hope and looking forward to tomorrow, even if the outlook appears bleak ("Sing it out, boy, you got to see what tomorrow brings/Sing it out, girl, you got to be what tomorrow needs/ … Raise your voice/Every single time they try and shut your mouth"). Likewise, "The Kids From Yesterday" declares, "Here we are and we won't stop breathing/Yell it out 'til your heart stops beating."
Quite a few of these songs cling to a spirit of triumphant resistance amid melodramatic tragedy. "The Only Hope for Me Is You" romanticizes depending on a cherished loved one in the face of doom ("If we can't find where we belong/We'll have to make it on our own/Face all the pain and take it on/Because the only hope for me is you alone"). Similar themes permeate the self-explanatory "Save Yourself, I'll Hold Them Back," "Summertime" and the somber "S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W," in which resistance fighters wait for nightfall to retrieve the bodies of fallen comrades. "Destroya" challenges listeners to think about their identity apart from their possessions and critiques consumerism ("If what you are/Is just what you own/What have you become/When they take that from you?")
"The Kids From Yesterday" and "Vampire Money" contain passing, critically sarcastic references to drug use. On the former, the band asks, "Does the television make you feel the pills you ate?" The latter says, "Pills don't help but it sure is funny/Gimme gimme some of that vampire money."
Four songs employ the f-word a total of eight times, including album closer "Vampire Money," which finds the Killjoys advocating one last carnal indulgence before the executioner arrives ("We came to f‑‑‑/Everybody party 'til the gasman comes").
The album also implies that faith, God and heaven may not offer any solace. On "Bulletproof Heart," the interpretation of the line "Tell the truth and God will save you" could go in several directions, one of which revolves around it being used as propaganda by the enemy. That song also says, "Stop your preaching right there/'Cause I really don't care." "Planetary (Go!)" includes, "Faith—is unavailable/ … You keep eternity/Give us the radio." "Party Poison" declares, "Ain't a preacher gonna save me now." And lyrics on "Destroya" blast pretty much everything ("You don't believe in God/I don't believe in luck/They don't believe in us/But I believe we're the enemy"). Meanwhile, "S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W" is fatalistically skeptical of love's power to help people overcome adversity ("Love, love, love won't stop this/Bomb, bomb, love won't stop this"). "Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)" trivializes the underbelly of eternity with this line: "I'd rather go to hell/Than be in purgatory."
Even though the Killjoys are ostensibly heroes, they delight in the violent anarchy that their resistance requires. "Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)" trumpets, "Let's blow an artery/ … Give us more detonation/ … And hit the party with a gas can." "Bulletproof Heart" adds, "I'm gunnin' out of this place in a bullet's embrace." The former song begins with a confusing drug reference ("Drugs gimme drugs gimme drugs/I don't need it").
Once upon a time, Gerard Way and his bandmates were the pale, somber, black-clad poster children for a certain flavor of brooding goth rock. With Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, however, the band has essentially lit a keg of TNT and blown that image to smithereens. Good-bye moody reflections on how to make sense of cancer and loss and life and death. Hello intentionally goofy concept album about a band of guys fighting Draculoids in the desert. Way has even gone so far as to dye his trademark jet-black locks flaming red.
It's an odd transformation that would likely make Quentin Tarantino smile. Danger Days' madcap rhythms are as over the top as its B-movie storyline is. But even as My Chemical Romance camps out in the realm of camp and proffers a manic, sci-fi vision of shock-schlock rock, it mixes in enough explicit material and doubts about God to kill any joy such a sonic experiment might otherwise have induced.