My Chemical Romance: It Was More Than Just A Phase

The emo icons' re-union is all part of their intricate mythology...

The loss of My Chemical Romance was visceral; the sting of a band being laid to rest at the height of their success is unlike anything else. The process of coming to terms with MCR's departure was akin to the stages of grieving – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, ultimately, acceptance. In the eight years since My Chemical Romance was laid to rest, many have also shed a certain side of themselves – a little part of their soul being locked away, frozen in time alongside the emo greats back in 2013.

Yet, on Halloween 2019, fans world-over immediately went in search of their previous selves, dusting off the cobwebs and fully embracing the news: MCR was back. However, this overflowing show of love and appreciation for the return may leave onlookers confused – while many performers have announced bold comebacks, few have managed to do themselves justice. MCR especially ended their story on a high – why risk such an unbelievable legacy? The trust placed within MCR links entirely to the authenticity of their revival – this comeback isn't like the rest.

As the band pick up from where they left off, oozing the classic MCR-level of theatrics and showmanship, it's impossible not to fall back into phases long-gone. Now isn't a time to be cynical – it's a time to celebrate a glorious, triumphant return.

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The authenticity of MCR's return can be understood immediately if we just consider one factor – California 2019. Some will recognise this as the time and place of The Shrine return show, but California 2019 holds a much deeper significance if we consider MCR's fourth studio album, 2010's 'Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys'. Conceptually, this raygun-blasting, battery-acid-infused release followed the infamous Killjoys cruising through the Californian desert in the not-too-distant future – and the year in mind? 2019, of course.

As Frank Iero helpfully joked about in the aftermath of the reunion announcement, the return of MCR has always been right under our noses. Merch from the 'Danger Days' era would proudly have 'California 2019' slapped on the front – and, while people would question the significance, any conspiracies were quickly shrugged off. Dreamers would hectically hunt down any 'proof' of the band's reunion (even causing a fuss when the MCR website's copyright got updated yearly), so most conspiracies would be drowned out sharpish. However, the band's eventual reunion was indeed always on the cards – or, at the very least, an option they had prepared for themselves if they deemed the decision worthy.

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With this in mind, a very clear element separates MCR's return from other lacklustre reunions – intention. 2019 was always set up to be the year of their grand, theatrical return. It's no secret that reunion tours can often fall flat, exposing an entirely new side of a once loved band or artist; the Sex Pistol's 1996 'Filthy Lucre' reunion tour presented the punks in a less-than-flattering light, Johnny Rotten proudly proclaiming that the band still hated each other "with a vengeance", their only unifying force being the rather un-punk "common cause… money."

And, even if there's not an outright reunion on the cards, lingering in the shadows of your success can often tarnish your legacy – it's a struggle to listen to The Smiths without being reminded of Morrissey's controversial ramblings. When you create something, there's a responsibility that comes with it – the ability to sense when your time has come. If that is ignored, or you attempt to inauthentically cling on to your past, the cracks will start to show. MCR on the other hand are merely following out their original plan – this isn't a spur of the moment change of course. This is an authentic resurrection.

The desperate need to cling onto the past is also not an issue here – the members of MCR have thrived in their own corners, proving to be incredible creative forces in their own rights. There's no need for members to leech off of their previous work, each able to assert themselves in their own unique right; from Gerard Way's bouncy britpop solo project, Mikey Way's work with Electric Century to Ray Toro's 2016 solo debut 'Remember the Laughter', the thirst to create did not stop when the curtains fell on MCR. Frank Iero in particular is a total creative firecracker, knocking out three intonations of the 'Frank Iero and…' band, with 'the cellabaration', 'the Patience' and 'the Future Violents', as well as the jagged, digital hardcore duo Death Spells. Even outside of music, Gerard Way's comic book career is solid, easily seen by the skyrocketing success of the Netflix adaptation of 'The Umbrella Academy'. Needless to say, there's clearly no lack of work for the members – nobody is sat twiddling their thumbs.

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While some may feel cautious to embrace the return, MCR's original split should be enough to put minds at ease. As saying goes, it's always better to burn out than fade away, and MCR's 2013 separation was rooted in this notion. The New Jersey rockers' original flame was bright, burning furiously until the group pulled the plug – triggered by Gerard Way sensing that he was 'acting' onstage for the first time. In Gerard Way's infamous twitlonger following the break-up, there was an awareness that "something [was] wrong", and the preservation of MCR was to be priority; "we were spectacular… My Chemical Romance had, built within its core, a fail-safe… under directive to terminate before it becomes compromised". MCR are the last band who want to stomp on their own legacy, and, if 2019 hadn't felt right, 'California 2019' would have most likely come and gone without any fuss.

This self-awareness, this dedication to preserving the 'idea' of MCR, is why fans are trusting this return. And, after a transcendental run of Eden Project and MK Stadium shows, it's clear that MCR's return isn't going to tarnish their legacy – in many ways, they're better than ever. Solo projects have transformed individual members into far stronger performers, resulting in a stage show that is absolutely untouchable. It also goes without saying that the three year delay (thanks, Covid) has only allowed them to ripen their performance. Not a hair is out of place, with Frank Iero and Ray Toro knocking out unreal guitar solos, Mikey Way's basslines coursing out ferociously and Gerard Way's vocals absolutely razor-sharp. When you find yourself stood in the sweaty crowd, smiling so wide it hurts, there's no denying that you can feel it in your bones – this is MCR at their very best.

The band also continues to know exactly who their fans are. From the setlists, to the onstage banter, to the merch, MCR haven't forgotten who they are and how they exist in the minds of their fans. Yes, of course fans will want to wear a top with a gay pornstar's tramp stamp on. Yes, of course they also want one with an outrageously glittery teen heartthrob magazine-style cover on the front. Why wouldn't fans want Gerard Way to call them rats onstage? Better yet, why wouldn't they want a rat documentary shown on the big screens before MCR take to the stage? The nostalgia rooted in every move MCR makes is undeniably comforting; every element of fan interaction is unhinged in exactly the way it was 8 years ago. And, above all, that's what makes it oh-so easy to fall back into the mindset you laid to rest back then too.

While we can of course liken the pain of MCR's split to the cliche of a ‘G chord’ striking in our hearts, the full force of its impact is difficult to put into words. MCR was everything – from the aesthetic, to the music, to the brazen lyrics, MCR represented so much for so many. The knowledge that those things are still alive is magnificent – and, with their unbelievable string of live shows and the glorious release of 'Foundations Of Decay', MCR is only set to grow. And it goes without saying that people can place their trust in MCR – if it wasn't working, there would be no reunion to discuss. So, crack out that red eyeshadow and kohl liner – it was never, ever just a phase.

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Words: Emily Swingle

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