About a year after My Chemical Romance called it a day, former frontman Gerard Way decided to start the next phase of his career by redefining himself. Or maybe not redefining as much as giving a range of possibilities for which road he could travel next. While most of these songs are drenched in reverb and have an artsy feel to the production, they still manage to be full of the kind of urgency Gerard is very capable of delivering. This album impressed me far more than I expected it to.
Here is the review I wrote in October when the album was released…
The Black Parade is Dead! My Chemical Romance’s live album of the same name in 2008 was quick to point this out. Yet the number one complaint I’ve read so far about Gerard Way’s first solo album Hesitant Alien is that is sounds nothing like My Chemical Romance. Well, the band split up and parted ways. When that happens to any band, the members usually try to find their own voices and forge their own paths forward if they stay in music. My initial reaction on first listen was instinctively similar. After all, The Black Parade is definitely in my top ten albums of the 2000’s. But what I had to remind myself is that the band recorded more after TBP. They recorded Danger Days. And then before disbanding, released a collection of outtakes called Conventional Weapons. As a good friend pointed out to me immediately upon hearing the first couple of songs on Hesitant Alien, the jumping off point is a track called “Kiss The Ring”. Gerard was already exploring new sounds. But it’s harder to experiment in the context of an unraveling band than it is when you have free rein and no rules. The title Hesitant Alien makes sense. Hesitant – as in leery of the reaction to a new direction, or even to be just himself. Alien – because, as he has stated in recent interview clips, he is now becoming comfortable being a musical outsider that doesn’t see himself as quite fitting anywhere. The cover of the album recalls (on purpose it turns out) Iggy Pop’s classic late 70s album The Idiot. That album was also a sonic turning point, but one that made quite a mark.
Unlike MCR’s albums, there is no intentional storyline here. However there is a sonic thread here that weaves it all together. I’ve seen the overall sound of this album be called “britpop” and “shoegazer”. The images that conjures up for me are mopey and complacent. That is *not* what is here. This is Gerard having fun with exploring his influences. Sonically, the one thing that takes a listen or two to get through is the sea of distortion used on the production and especially the vocals. It sounds something like if Brian Eno took the tapes home with him, then returned them back to Gerard a week later. Thank goodness that Gerard was kind enough to provide lyrics in the CD booklet, so they are not lost in the mix. However I’ve found after a couple listens, my ears and mind adjusted, sort of in the way they did the first couple times I heard Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head (yes, I know, very different genre – but the distorted vocal element gave me a similar first reaction). So I’m just gonna call this by a much simpler term – fuzzy rock & roll. It’s a bit reckless and bombastic, but you can hear that newfound freedom in there that Gerard is trying to get across.
The album bursts in stomping with “The Bureau”, which at first almost sounds like a lost demented White Stripes track. The song comes across almost like a statement of destruction towards the past and looking forward to the present with “got no love for the end”. It serves more an an intro song. The first hard driving fast rocker here is “Action Cat”. Again here, Gerard showing his excitement to be in the now. “We want action and decision that we can’t fake” and a chorus with a resounding “we can make it up again”. While there might be a second level to the lyrics, this one seems like a roll call for those still with him after MCR’s demise. The energy the track packs makes for a great way to really get the album started. This is followed with the newest single/video and my favorite track so far, “No Shows”, where Gerard calls up the glam-swagger of T. Rex, maybe some Gary Glitter and Suzi Quatro via The Runaways, it’s hard to tell exactly which of the artists were the direct influence as it feels like he’s more in love with a vibe that glam rock had than one specific artist. The message of this song seems to be that rather than the big shows and the big audience, that what he craves is the excitement of being creative and off his leash to just rock out as he sees fit without the strings of expectation. But yes Gerard, you are on a major label still. However, I still see what he’s trying to get at.
“Brother” brings us back to MCR more than just a bit melodically. Ironically, this would seem to be the song where Gerard addresses losing his inspiration in MCR and needing to leave the fame behind find it again. “Remember when you and I would make things up?”, he asks. And while I liked Danger Days, was that album forced? Next “Millions” starts us on our different turn. It’s partly what I guess I could call jangle-rock of the late 60s, but with a chorus that reminds us that Gerard is still Gerard, and he does have a knack for good choruses. And while talking about “a trillion legions” he sings “You don’t understand, we don’t hold hands”. Again he’s exploring an alienation from the fans that love him and expect things from him, when he just wants to create in his own way and not the way the fans expect.
“Zero Zero” brings us to the question “so what is it he wants to do then?”. Here goes for a crunchy fuzzed-out hybrid of Berlin-era David Bowie and distortion-drenched Smashing Pumpkins (and not just because of the similarity in title). The lyrics could be about being “patient zero”. They could be saying “erase my identity so I can start over”. “Juarez” picks up the pace and the distortion. It encaptures a feeling of chaotic rebellion. “I’m Grenn Ginn, I’m running skin, I’m selling glitter for the plaster”. So, he’s trying for Black Flag here? The sense of abandon and noise here makes sense, but it’s more about feeling and less about the song here.
Things slow down for “Drug Store Perfume”. Here we find Gerard in storyteller mode with a really standout love song about waiting for someone who is herself waiting for something real and to leave her own world behind. This flows into the next song by adding some guitar crunch. “Get The Gang Together” is a lament for the way it used to be with the “ol’ gang” and how when you chase that feeling when you’re older, everyone’s lives have taken some times drastically separate paths making the reconnection to that feeling near impossible.
“How It’s Going To Be” is a definite highlight and a step forward. Here Gerard uses a completely different type of rock beat (that oddly makes me think of the Bangles “Walk Like An Egyptian”) with harmonizing that reminds me in some ways of early Beatles. The song may be one of the best he’s written yet. It’s basically an open letter to anyone who is disappointed that he left MCR behind to find a new path, and even how some may have been waiting for his demise. The song comes to a climax with a horn section that brings Sgt. Pepper to mind. It’s here where he’s learning to meld the inspirations of the past he loves with the songwriter that he is. The final track “Maya The Psychic” starts with a riff that also is reminiscent of Black Parade MCR. Until the song really starts, which is a rallying call for like-minded “teenage believers” – “We’re not just dreamers, we’re the kind that comprehend”. Loud, in your face rock and roll to close out the show.
So this non-concept album could actually be one of the most unintentional conceptual things Gerard Way has done thus far. He’s made his search for his true self an exhibit. But rather than it be metaphorically, it is all spelled right out for us. He’s driving the point home that MCR became a monster that he was tired of feeding and his heart was no longer into, and this album is his way of coming to terms with this and saying “welcome to the future”. I won’t be throwing out my MCR CDs anytime soon. But after a couple listens now, the details and sonic exploration in this album are proving to take this whole thing deeper than verse-chorus-verse. I only hope that Gerard continues to learn from his inspirations and why they were innovative, rather than ending up trying to be like them. Time will tell. But Hesitant Alien is a great place to start the journey, and is an exciting, if slightly intimidating at first, listen.
Check out some videos from the album:
“Pink Station Zero” Intergalactic transmission interview:
Live at the Reading Festival in August: