Celebrating Twenty Years Of My Chemical Romance’s ‘Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge’

Who would ever have thought that the story of a man, a woman and the corpses of a thousand evil men would have such a profound and lasting effect on the world? Honestly, My Chemical Romance would probably be the first to share such disbelief.

20 years on from the release of their second album ‘Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge’, this scrappy, savage, sensationally chaotic display of pomp, theatre and bloodshed still feels like it had no right to become the worldwide sensation that it is. A devilish blend of post-hardcore vitriol, pop-punk melody and post-punk bleakness, these were songs made to be played in the dankest of basements. If performed by any other band, that’s probably where they would have stayed. Yet, when delivered with the poise, precision and creative depth that MCR exuded, it would be nearly impossible for them to have not captured the hearts and souls of a whole generation. It takes a certain attitude, a certain upbringing and a certain level of chaos to bridge that gap between the underground and the stratosphere.

“For me, My Chemical Romance is a really important band because they were so different to everything else,” Creeper‘s Will Gould remarked back in 2016. “What they went on to do was make allowances for kids who are outsiders and give [them] a place to go. That all derives from being involved in punk originally. That message was never diluted.”

Despite picking up interest from Reprise Records in 2003 off the back of their rampant debut ‘I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me My Love’, they never let the prospect of superstardom get in the way of what they had originally set out to achieve. Cutting their teeth in the bars and clubs of New Jersey and touring with metalcore maestros such as Every Time I Die and Misery Signals, this was a very different world from where many today will have had the privilege of experiencing them.  A chaotic and cutthroat community where individuality, perseverance and looking after your own pays dividends.

So, when it came to figuring out exactly what direction they wanted to be in, the only answer was to do what felt right. Recording with the imitable Howard Benson at Bay 7 Studios, Valley Village Studios and Sparky Dark Studios in Calabasas, California – a LONG way from home – the band dug their heels into the things that had made them want to make music as My Chemical Romance in the first place, but with a more refined gleam. That’s how you end up with songs like ‘Give ‘Em Hell, Kid’ and ‘Hang ‘Em High’, overflowing with glorious feedback and bile-drenched intent. It’s how you carve out the sort of messages that make the still potent ‘It’s Not a Fashion Statement, It’s a Fucking Deathwish’ and heartbreakingly corrosive ‘Thank You For The Venom’ sentiments to live and die by. It’s an atmosphere where the switchblade sass of ‘You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison’ and the romantic decay of ‘Cemetery Drive’ is allowed to thrive, rot and blossom all over again. 

There is nothing safe about ‘Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge’, despite the fact the band were in a position where the band could have made something like that through and through. No longer just a local sweetheart, now with genuine pressure to succeed on their shoulders, nobody would have blamed for dialling down the risk. Instead, they conjured a violent maelstrom of dark alleys, dirty deeds and crimson decadence, coated in the sort of darkness that few would have the confidence to unfurl in their position.

“There are some moments of unbridled viciousness,” Holding Absence’s Lucas Woodland laughs, speaking to Rock Sound in 2021. “It just rips out of the speakers. There aren’t any songs that drop the ball and it also feels like a bit of a risk. I really respect that because at that point in their career, they weren’t in the position to be risking losing anybody.”

However, how well they hit that balance of melody and menace when called upon takes the album from being good to truly great. Opening the whole affair with a song like ‘Helena’, famously written in tribute to vocalist Gerard and bassist Mikey Way’s grandmother, and it being as gorgeously mournful as it is instantly addictive is a masterstroke. ‘The Ghost of You’ slap bang in the centre of the performance, slowing things down to a glacially approachable pace before delving into the seven stages of grief with vulnerability and vibrancy. And, of course, ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’, the actual national anthem, manages to make confusion and frustration within heartbreak feel so readymade for shout-alongs. By harnessing the power of the mainstream without losing any of the emotional depth or gripping storytelling that they had built their foundations on, the band found a way to be cult-like alongside that potential to be absolutely massive.

In refusing to water down any element of who they were, My Chemical Romance showed what is possible when the underdog is given a voice. ‘Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge’ may have developed into one of the scene’s most beloved records – a set of songs that many have tried to replicate the energy of and many more have failed –  but at its core, it still exists for those who feel like they have nowhere else to turn. A place where being a weirdo or a nerd is a position of endearment rather than something that should be hidden away from the public. It is a solace for those who have never known where they slot into society in a medium they probably didn’t even know existed. 

What MCR taught us in 2004 is that you should never let anybody tell you what you should and shouldn’t be. That everything that makes you glisten is everything that you need. The world can think it knows what is best for you, but at the end of all things, you are the only one in control of the path you wish to take.

Through June 06, 2004 will always be a special day in the MCR calendar, October 20, 2006, would, for some, eclipse it. Two years on with the world firmly at their feet, the band would be back with ‘The Black Parade’, very much the definitive album of their career and one that put the emo subculture well and truly on the world stage. Though a massive moment in their journey, the significance of what came before cannot be overstated. The level of lavish worldbuilding and mournful soul-searching was only possible with the groundwork that ‘Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge’ laid out. By being 100% themselves in the face of a world that absolutely wasn’t ready for them, MCR could chisel out a path that nobody else could even attempt to walk down, apart from themselves, when they next saw fit.

[They’re] not only a rock band, but a rock band that doesn’t look ordinary,” State Champs‘ Tyler Szalkowski stated to Rock Sound back in 2016. “A rock band that is comfortable with being different. It’s inspiring to see them have so much success from just being themselves.”

And for such a legacy to as feel fresh, frantic and fabulous two decades on is nothing short of monumental. It will take something truly remarkable to ever go one better, but who knows. With whatever My Chemical Romance are cooking right now, they may even lap themselves. Only time will tell, but for now, raise your glass and give three cheers for the sweetest revenge. 

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