Gerard Way has always been way more than the emo superstar most people have taken him for over the past decade or so. As My Chemical Romance’s ashes grow cold (ending on ‘Fake Your Death’, an insanely uplifting song about a band’s end), Gerard Way is stepping into a musical spotlight he often was not afforded as lead singer of MCR.
He’s always been ready for this spotlight though. You can see it in the characters he has created, particularly for ‘The Black Parade’ and ‘Danger Days’. His references have always been broad; remember MCR’s cover of ‘Common People’?
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So ‘Hesitant Alien’ should not be a surprise.
But in some ways it still is. The bright red hair against the navy blue suit that has been part of the promotion has already separated Gerard Way from memories of his old band. The aggressive guitar line, soaked in jagged feedback, that announces the album with ‘The Bureau’, makes a statement. It’s a statement we’ve heard before and it says that you don’t underestimate Gerard Way. He’ll prove you wrong again and again.
The singles, ‘Action Cat’ and ‘No Shows’, have been floating around for a while now. ‘Action Cat’ doesn’t quite demonstrate how good the album as a whole is. It sounds very close to ‘Danger Days’ era MCR, without bringing anything new. Otherwise ‘Hesitant Alien’ is actually a huge break away. However, ‘No Shows’ makes up for it. Opening with eager ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ (a feature of the album) and crunching guitars, it works as the single. You can dance and sing along to it, before a chord change and guitar solo so cheesy and magnificent Aerosmith could have written it. It’s unashamed.
The songs are short and the album as a whole flashes past you in a hyperactive, intense way. Guitar lines recur, vocals get distorted and Way sounds menacing. Sometimes he yells, sometimes he snarls and sometimes he serenades. When you think you pin the album down, it flips on its head, like ‘Juarez’ which is the lovechild of early Manic Street Preachers and grunge. Which then morphs into ‘Drugstore Perfume’, probably the most obvious homage to Pulp on the album, as Way’s tunes sound exactly like they could have come off ‘His n Hers’. His lyrics may as well have been pinched from Jarvis Cocker’s repertoire too:“dead leaves, desperate summers/all age clubs and metal summers”.
It’s on ‘Brother’ that Gerard Way really shows how much he is in fact capable of. Beginning with the kind of the simple piano progressions which My Chemical Romance always harnessed to huge emotive effect, the song is rousing. It encapsulates the essence of everything Way has stood for over ten years in music as he yells “Does anyone have the guts to shut me up?”
On paper, ‘Hesitant Alien’ is brave. The disparate list of influences, none of which pertain directly to most of MCR’s oeuvre, should be hard to bring together. Yet, listening to it, it sounds confident. Not cocky, just someone who knows he’s giving as good as it gets.