MM – “Bullets” & the beginning of MCR

Even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of punk, rock, or emo music, you’ve definitely heard of My Chemical Romance. In the spirit of the 18th anniversary of their very first album “I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love” which passed by a bit over a week ago, I figured I would talk about this album, and more specifically, why I believe it is unfairly overlooked and underrated by a lot of fans.

Now, this isn’t every single fan of the band. There’s lots of love out there for “Bullets” but of course there is; the MCR fandom is huge. However, I definitely don’t see the same level of love for this album as I do for the others – I’ll continue that thought in a bit.

I’m not going to give you the whole history of MCR because that’s already extremely well-documented by better writers than me, and overall, it’s pretty well-known. For those who are maybe less familiar with the band, however, I’ll briefly mention that I’m going to be talking the era right before their huge hits “Helena” and “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” blew up into the mainstream emo scene. I’m probably going to mention “The Black Parade” and “Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys” only in passing; that doesn’t mean I don’t love them, but this post is about “Bullets”.

Remember MTV? This video was everywhere, and so was that whole eyeliner, long black hair, and red-and-black aesthetic. When you look at the legacy of MCR, you think of this era, along with of course, “The Black Parade” where they donned the Beatles-esque marching band outfits. Those are their legacies.

Yet before that, there was “Bullets” which as their debut, didn’t get that much mainstream attention (although MTV did pick up the video for “Honey, This Mirror Isn’t Big Enough for the Two of Us” and turned the song into a bit of an underground hit).

While it’s very normal for a young band not to blow up on their first release, MCR blew up very shortly after, and often once a band gets big like that, fans go check out older material too. For a band as huge as MCR is, I’m always shocked by how little discussion I see on “Bullets” compared to every other full-length they’ve put out.

Again, as I was talking about at the start of this post, it’s not that nobody talks or cares about it, or that it’s hated by the fans; to the contrary. Lots of people love it, myself included. However, in proportion to the size and reach of this band and to the rest of their material, “Bullets” is treated as little more than a blip on the radar.

Before going into why I believe you shouldn’t overlook this album, I want to break down the reasons why fans don’t give “Bullets” as much attention as the rest of MCR’s discography, combining my personal thoughts along with widespread opinions I’ve heard from being around the fandom for a few years. Here we go:

#1 – The release of “Bullets” on Eyeball Records

This point is more about why the album didn’t initially get more attention back in 2002, but it does have some relation as to why “Bullets” is still overlooked today.

While MCR was actually signed to the label they would remain on, Reprise Records, before their following album “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge” was actually released, “Bullets” came out before that on the independent label Eyeball Records. As a general rule of thumb, the money and resources of indie labels are way surpassed by larger labels like Reprise, which is owned by the well-known and huge Warner Music Group.

This meant that while labels and people already within that online emo, post-hardcore niche noticed MCR and picked up on their talent, mainstream fans couldn’t, because Eyeball wasn’t really able to get the band and the album out there enough. They gained a large part of their early following through MySpace.

It was really only after signing with Reprise and touring with Avenged Sevenfold that the band really started getting mainstream attention. As I mentioned a bit earlier, I think that because MCR blew up to the extent that they did, this isn’t really as relevant a point as it definitely was back in 2002. However, I also think it still plays into why fans don’t pay as much attention to “Bullets” in a way, because everything MCR did after signing with Reprise became so much more polished and solid, to the point that when you look at the material released on Eyeball, the difference is huge.

Overall, the latter work is so much more engaging, still to this day, and many people can’t get past the roughness of “Bullets” when they could just listen to “Three Cheers”.

This isn’t Eyeball’s fault either; it’s not like they did anything wrong. The issue is simply that they lacked the resources to push a project like “Bullets” in the way the rest of MCR’s discography and image was later pushed by Reprise. Between two projects, one far more polished than the other, most people will pick the more polished one.

#2 – The album’s poor production/mixing

This is probably the complaint I hear most often in the fandom for why people struggle to enjoy “Bullets” like they do the rest of MCR’s music. Compared to the rest of their work, “Bullets” is by far the worst in terms of general production and mixing.

However, this is the oldest MCR release, and again, it’s important to keep in mind that it was produced by an indie label with fewer resources.

If you compare it to “Three Cheers” which came out two years later on a much bigger label, of course it’s not going to sound nearly as good. In my opinion, the production isn’t as bad as some fans make it out to be (more on that later) but I do see how it can detract from the listening experience.

#3 – Gerard’s voice & the genre are too different

This is another one I hear extremely often in the fandom. “Bullets” is definitely a post-hardcore album, while the rest of MCR’s work is more pop punk, emo, and alternative-inspired. That more abrasive, heavier sound can definitely turn off some listeners.

Additionally, Gerard’s voice is definitely different; there lots of screamed/spoken portions, potentially more than in the other albums. This is done to accommodate the heavier, brasher style of post-hardcore that they were going for, but it’s also important to remember that Gerard’s voice was weaker back then. He was younger and in an especially bad period regarding his alcohol and drug addictions, and while he still managed to pound out some killer vocals on this album, his voice is not nearly as good nor versatile on “Bullets” as we know it became on MCR’s subsequent releases.

#4 – Lack of aesthetic & concept

I know “Bullets” is often regarded to be a concept album by the fans, with the storyline of the so-called demolition lovers trying escape a town filled with vampires, but (feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong) I don’t know that this has actually ever been confirmed by the band themselves, unlike the concept for every other album .

Each MCR full-length after “Bullets” had a deliberate and distinct aesthetic and concept. “Three Cheers” had the red and black emo thing, “The Black Parade” had the marching band outfits, and “Danger Days” had the bright, futuristic costumes and personas (you can also read about the concepts on the Wikipedia page of each album if you’re not familiar with them already – it’s not necessary to enjoy the music, but it’s pretty cool).

MCR has always been the type of band whose image is as popular as their music, so to have that lack of a distinct image has for some taken away from their desire to really delve into “Bullets”. They’ve written it off as being not as artsy and deep as the rest.

I think I kept that close to objective, right?

Now to refute these points a little and explain why fans who overlook “Bullets” are definitely missing out, starting with the bad production angle. Yes, “Bullets” is rough in places, especially if you’re comparing it to other MCR work.

But is it really a “bad” album? I don’t think so.

I think that if you look at it as a project independent of the rest of the band’s work and you don’t try to make comparisons, it’s really not that poorly produced. It’s rougher, sure, but post-hardcore is rougher, and that’s what this album is.

Are there songs that are sometimes distracting to me because something isn’t turned up high enough in the mix or there’s maybe a weird production choice? Yes! (Looking at you, vocals in the verses of “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville” – why aren’t you louder?).

Again, though, this is a debut album from a band of college kids on an indie label. I can’t stress this enough, because people seem to forget that of course it’s not going to be perfect like “Three Cheers”, but I don’t think that makes it totally un-listenable.

Is “Bullets” arguably the weakest MCR album? Absolutely.

Gerard and the band definitely hadn’t completely come into their own at this point. But it’s still MCR. It’s still God-tier work. “Bullets” is still extremely solid for what it is (despite not having its own cool aesthetic and storyline like the others) and I think it’s unfair to dismiss it without taking all of this into consideration.

And the songs, people – the songs are actually really fucking good. Like, so good that all of the semi-valid negative points I talked about earlier that potentially detract from “Bullets” as a whole can generally be overlooked.

Take “Our Lady of Sorrows” for example, which is an absolute banger. I think it’s definitely on par with some “Three Cheers” stuff. It’s not their best song ever, fine, but the lyricism is there, the energy is there, and even if it sounds different from what we usually hear of MCR, to me it still sounds so distinctly like them, if only a less developed version of the band we’ve come to know and love more with every new release.

I mean, that chorus? “Stand up fucking tall, don’t let them see your back, and take my fucking hand and never be afraid again!” That’s pure MCR, people, come on. Are we really going to dismiss this just because it’s not as sleek as their later stuff? There’s something to be said about that rawness, too. This is a post-hardcore song that hits hard, and in this case, I think sleeker production would’ve taken away from its essence.

One of my favourite things about “Bullets” is actually the very fact that this isn’t MCR’s best and final form. I actually enjoy this album because it’s just the beginnings of what we saw on the later releases. I love hearing those inklings of greatness in songs that are maybe a bit weaker. You hear all that potential that’s just ready to burst out into the world. It’s such a cool type of blast from the past; like a happier version of nostalgia. Like re-reading a book where you’re excited because you know what’s going to happen and you can’t wait to get to that one part that you love.

You hear the spirit of all the future albums in the lyrics of the song I just posted above; the spirit of MCR, of carrying on. Sonically, you hear it that break in “Headfirst for Halos” when we switch tempos suddenly, and you realize that that goes on to happen again (but better) in “Welcome to the Black Parade”. You hear that anger and heart-on-your-sleeve lyricism in “Skylines and Turnstiles”, and it makes you think of those later, evermore lyrically aggressive works like “SING” and “DESTROYA”. You hear the beginnings of Gerard’s huge vocal versatility in “Honey, This Mirror”, “Demolition Lovers”, and “Vampires Will Never Hurt You” which comes back again and again, better and better, in songs like “Hang ‘Em High”. It’s honestly really fucking cool.

Consider this latter comparison yourself. Here’s “Honey, This Mirror”:

And here’s “Hang ‘Em High”:

I picked those two because both songs have that urgent pace with lots of musical variation and different guitar elements, as well as lots of versatile vocals from Gerard. Now, the latter is objectively the better song by a mile (although I’ve always had a huge soft spot for “Honey, This Mirror”). However, you hear elements present in “Honey, This Mirror” like that seamless shifting from singing to screaming and those fast-paced, urgent instrumentals being developed, but then they’re expanded in “Hang ‘Em High” to create a tighter, better, and more complex song.

Since I listen to “Bullets” pretty regularly, I find I almost appreciate “Three Cheers” and the rest of the band’s material even more, because I see it not only as quality MCR music, but also as the evolution and improvement of every element of theirs that I love.

They honed in on exactly what they needed to, taking all the best parts from “Bullets” for their future work – but it’s hard to know that as a listener if you don’t give “Bullets” a try. As a very nerdy person and music lover, that part of it definitely brings me joy; appreciating the band’s evolution through the years and hearing for myself how smart they were and how much they improved upon an already very solid foundation.

Maybe that’s not your idea of fun as a listener (fair enough), but the bottom line is that “Bullets” is fast, raw, and quintessentially and authentically MCR, even as their weakest release. It’s jam-packed full of songs that are amazing in their own right, and they wrote these when barely out of their teens. That tells you a lot about their talent.

If MCR fans who haven’t yet given “Bullets” a fair chance can approach it with an open mind as to genre and maybe a less critical or comparitive perspective (because it won’t be like “Three Cheers” or any their other stuff, sorry), I think it can still be thoroughly appreciated as a great work by a great band. That’s the thing with MCR; every album is different, and we love each one for different reasons.

So, why not “Bullets” too?

— H

What do you think of the “Bullets” album? Feel free to leave a comment to share your thoughts!

Published by mcharlow

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