A funny thing happened on the way back from Emo School. I enjoyed the challenge. I really did. It allowed me to indulge in some top quality maudlin pop rock, some nostalgia, and got a couple of people to shout at me on the internet for the wrongness of my overriding wrongness. Good times, indeed.
Then, rather randomly, my delightful eight-year-old (nearly nine, she’d want me to point out) daughter, who is currently going through the excellent-to-watch process of falling in love with music for the first time, stumbled across Panic! At The Disco. Needless to say, I handled this in the way any parent would. Disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance.
I hated the emo-pop explosion of Panic!, MCR et al when it came around. As a music fan it can be bruising when a scene you’re invested in makes it big, when you feel that sense of immediate connection diluted in a sea of commercial success, but when it happens because of a stylistic hard right turn into somewhere you didn’t want to go, it can be especially galling. It was exactly like when Nu Metal died, which I can pinpoint to the day the second Limp Bizkit album came out. And before you say anything, yes I’m aware that Coal Chamber got there first but I liked them, for some inexplicable reason.
Anyway, I hated all that pop emo bullshit. Awful stuff. Urgh. So why exactly was it that while my daughter disappeared down a YouTube rabbit warren of ‘guyliner’ and concept videos with the same ‘high school dance gone wrong’ concept, that I knew all the words? And why was I enjoying those songs so much? Is this what getting old feels like?
Is this what a brain aneurysm feels like?
So, I thought I’d do a little postscript. An ‘Emo-dendum’ if you will. Having listened to 50 of the most revered and respected emo albums, how about I listened to five of the biggest, poppiest, spanglyest emo albums that I wrote off at the time?
What’s the worst that could happen?
1. My Chemical Romance – Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge: Well, right off the bat, I can tell that this is going to be the end of whatever pitiful excuse for credibility I somehow believe I have fostered. Let’s have a story, eh? I remember going to see MCR at Reading Festival. Well, I didn’t so much go to see them as much as they played after Slayer, and I stuck around because it was bloody hilarious watching these fey emo-popsters trying to play to a crowd that were still incredibly angry that Slayer hadn’t played ‘Raining Blood.’ Anyway, it all went a bit pear shaped for Gerard and the boys, with the newly blonde singer declaring the entire crowd to be ‘a bunch of homophobes’, which was a bit weird when all any of us could hear was endless cries of SLAAAAAYEEEEEEEER.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, I was trying to put off telling you how much I bloody enjoyed this. There are some serious hooks on this album, the production has more bite than I remember, and it’s all basically a nice stew of pop-punk, old school emo licks and cheesiness. I can’t for one second work out why I didn’t like it. Oh, that’s right, the ‘credibility’ thing.
2. Panic! At The Disco – A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out: Never fear, dear reader, I’ve not gone completely batcrap crazy, I can still tell when something is rubbish. Like this, for instance. I can see what they’re going for here – where MCR were the carnival version of emo, Panic! (and they can bugger right off for that exclamation mark) thought they were in an actual carnival. There’s a surreal vocal delivery going on here, where none of the notes seem to fit what’s going on. The production is very flat, stale almost, and aside from the few singles that I recognised (‘I write sins not tragedies’ is still a cracking tune, mind) there’s not a lot going on here to get my excitement up. My daughter, on the other hand, LOVES them. She’d want me to tell you that.
3. Fall Out Boy – From Under The Cork Tree: I’m settling into a rhythm now, and that is the rhythm of tedium. That’s a little harsh. This is certainly better than Panic! (that fucking exclamation mark again), in fact it’s in the same wheelhouse, except the tunes are better and the melodies make more sense. It’s summary, breezy, and fun. So it’s everything that I’m not. I quite liked it though. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?
4. Paramore – RIOT!: Another album, another errant exclamation mark. I mean, don’t oversell it, guys and gals. Anyway, this is great fun, with an energy that was lacking a bit in the last few, plus some honest-to-goshdarn angst, which is why we’re all here, right? And, in broken record news, in ‘Misery Business’ they have a proper, honest-to-blog, Top Tune. They may have been barely pubescent super-jesus-y children when they made this, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t rock. Also, the ballady pop stuff is reet good, too. Sure, it’s all really formulaic, but so is water, and that’s okay. H2O in the house.
5. Blink 182 – Blink 182: I included this because I remember one of my more emo-curious friends telling me that it was the greatest emo album ever, although I think he just had a crush on Mark Hoppas, or something. Who knows? One thing’s for sure though, he wasn’t right. This is a bit of a mish mash of different things, and the yelpy vocals are a tad irritating, but there’s parts of it that really work even if it doesn’t fully hold together. Which makes it similar to a lot of bands who got really big in the 90’s and their record companies didn’t much care if their records were any good.
Bonus Album: I was originally only going to do five albums, because I’m not an idiot, but it occurred to me that I couldn’t do even a whistle-stop tour of emo-pop and not include this, the grande dame of emo-pop albums. So, you know, why not?
My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade: I don’t really know what I was expecting from this. I knew that the title track was something I outwardly shunned to all my friends, unless I’d had a considerable amount to drink, at which point I could typically be found shout-singing it down the empty streets of Yorkshire past midnight of a weekend. I knew it had ‘Teenagers’ on it, which I didn’t like. I knew that a bunch of emo-goths once dressed up and held a Black Parade through Manchester as though it was some kind of protest, and I remember being very confused by that. What were they protesting against?
What I didn’t realise was that this album is chuffing great. For all the histrionics of their earlier stuff, this turns up all the emo dials, then adds a big dial marked QUEEN for good measure. It’s a concept album about death that sounds like someone took Kiss, Queen, Green Day, Manson, some Gilbert and Sulivan, and a couple of tons of black eyeliner and created something infectious as all hell out of it. It’s grandiose, stupid, overblown and very catchy. I mean, right now, if I write the words ‘when I was, a young boy,’ I bet you have the rest of that song playing in your head now, don’t you? See? Even ‘Teenagers’, a song I used to hate, sounds great within the context.
Oh, Jesus, what the hell is happening to me?
So, have I learned anything from this? Don’t be silly, I’m old, I don’t learn things any more. I just fester in the tiny knowledge that I have, refusing to acknowledge the wider world exists. You know, like Trump supporters.
No, I have learned something, something that I guess must come to us all. You know that part of your life – it’ll probably be during your twenties or thirties – when the music that comes along for a new generation of kids sounds AWFUL and WRONG and everything is confusing and you feel smug about your own tastes because they’re better than these terrible children running around out there now, with their shoes and their hair and their bright futures? Yeah, that’s stupid. You might not see it, but there’s something there, something that they can see, or they wouldn’t be falling in love with it JUST AS HARD as you fell in love with the bands you love. But remove yourself, your ego, your love of what came before, from the mix, and you might be surprised.
END OF LESSON