//of fuzz and stardust - a hesitant alien (2014) review_

this is a review i wrote for my college english class of hesitant alien (2014) by gerard way, reformatted for html markup and sectioned into (hopefully) more digestible segments. i originally finished this in august 2022, so i've made just a little change to bring it more up to date now that mcr's 2022 tour is over. everything else has been left as-is, though.

this thing's insufferably long so you can jump to each section here:

//part 1: the hook_

You've made it, and you've made it big. You have four albums behind you, legions of fans, bandmates you love dearly. You've gone from playing dingy basements to commanding sold-out arenas. You took your pain, your trauma, your passion, and you turned it into a weapon, to rail against the thorns of society constricting you. A lifeline, to reach out to all the suffering outcasts just like you. You've touched countless hearts, saved countless lives. And it's destroying you. The pressure continues to build, with no sign of relenting. You aren't fighting the machine anymore. You are the machine. The thing that saved your life is now tearing you apart.

So you end it. Break it off, tear it down, leave it all behind.

Now, after all these years, you're finally free. So what now? Where do you go from here?

Your name is Gerard Way, and you've just ended My Chemical Romance.

//part 2: background_

With My Chemical Romance gone, a whole new world of creative possibilities opened up for Gerard. He shed his dark, provocative, experimental personae of old, trading them in for a shock of red-orange hair and an array of colorful suits. He returned to the music he loved back in art school--70s and 80s Britpop, glam rock, and shoegaze. He picked up the guitar and some fuzz pedals and got to making music. The result: Hesitant Alien (2014), a celebration of Britpop and old-school sci-fi, of Fenders and fuzzy pedals and distorted noise. It was a radical new direction for Gerard Way, another shiny facet studding his illustrious career.

Hesitant Alien harkens back to the fuzz and gleam of the late 20th century, in a time when the electric guitar was disappearing off of rock radio. It hits both rough and grimy and sparkly and vibrant, soaring between them like a cartoon spaceship, alternating and converging at different intervals. It wraps up regrets, wants, and longing in sparkly synths and nostalgia.

//part 3: play-by-play_

"The Bureau" saunters in with a drawling guitar wail, draped across percussive jabs for backing chords. It starts off slow, but with a steady marching beat, and then it slams out a dissonant chord on the piano and the whole thing explodes into a raucous jaunt. Gerard belts out the lyrics more like a rallying cry than a melody. It's an in-your-face rock-'n-roll overture, heavy-footed but robust, plodding but never dull. It's loud and disruptive, even overwhelming, yet it invites you to get excited for the show to come.

Gerard picks up the pace with "Action Cat," a much more buoyant track than its predecessor. The bouncy melody seems cheerful on the surface, but there's an undercurrent of cynicism and melancholy too--Gerard touches on past regrets and longing for things we can't have. There's a sense of resignation in lyrics like "Don't ask a lot / And you won't lose a lot / Don't ask too much," but also wistfulness in the way Gerard asks "Do you miss me? / ‘Cause I miss you, too."

"No Shows" eases off the gas a bit. Whereas "Action Cat" feels like coasting down an incline, this next track settles into a comfortable jog, guitars chugging along at a leisurely pace. The soundscape sparks as Gerard's distant vocals shimmer overhead, mixing relationship metaphors with music--namely, the idea that you "don't need no shows" to make something great--just the music and someone who'll listen. He stresses the importance of passion, singing "It's not love if / If it's just fuckin'." In a way, the album as a whole is Gerard branching out and making music not as some grand statement, or to uphold a brand, but because it's what he loves to do.

Gerard Way loves his younger brother Mikey very much. Both Gerard and Mikey struggled heavily with alcoholism and drug addiction during and after MCR's run, and it's this experience that "Brother" draws on in Gerard's plaintive pleas for Mikey to support him. The first steady piano chords feel like a stomach drop, plodding relentlessly even as they dip into the background. There's a desperation in the drums that join in soon after, echoing the "drums of the city rain" that serve as this song's refrain. Gerard's vocal phrases are short and fragmented, as if he's struggling to speak. Disparate vocal lines overlap each other, rising and falling like disjointed thoughts. Throughout the song, we hear snippets of a garbled phone conversation, replaying over and over like a lingering memory. We close out with the phone call once again, and this time you might just be able to make out the last thing they say: "He killed himself."

"Millions" starts with a distant, wordless vocal that glides into a poppy guitar riff propelled forward by a pounding drum beat. Though we've rebounded from "Brother"'s sorrowful descent, that undercurrent of melancholy still remains beneath the glittery exterior. Gerard exudes a sense of resignation and passive-aggressive jabbing as he alludes to ending a troubled relationship as a metaphor for giving up. He notes that both he and whoever he's addressing are sore and that he's "not having any fun," but asks to be their number one reason out of a million for… something. Even amidst all the pessimism, though, there's a bit of optimism to be found as Gerard ends with "We all get through somehow."

"Zero Zero," by contrast, is much darker and grungier, even more so than "The Bureau". The fuzz on the guitars is palpable, wrapping around heavy drums ‘til it creates a buzzing wall of distorted noise. Gerard has gone on record citing "Song 2" by Blur as an inspiration for this song, but lyrically it's one of the more ambiguous tracks on the album. The most I can get out of lines like "jet lag is suffocation" is if you take too long to adjust to change, you'll get left behind. "Call me Zero Zero" evokes images of a secret agent, along with Gerard's "offhand way / Of getting information," but honestly, it's up in the air what exactly these mean.

"Juarez" is a high-octane, adrenaline-fueled romp celebrating the dirty and dangerous. It feels like drifting on the highway, careening through thick traffic at eighty miles per hour with the wind whipping your eyes and the radio blasting your ears. As Gerard's vocals come in, the noise momentarily quiets down, taking the edge off the bite while enveloping you in the sound. The energy doesn't stay down much, though, as the chorus enthusiastically shouts its disdain for police authority and proclaims "death to the crown, man!" This is one of, if not the highest-energy song on this album, and it makes for an intimidating, yet thrilling ride.

If "Juarez" was a blood-pumping car chase, "Drugstore Perfume" is a breath of fresh air, a short break in the stillness of night. The guitar strums serenely along, sleepy but not sluggish. It harkens to being stuck in a small town and that ceaseless itch to leave, to be free. Yet at the same time, there's something sweet, almost comforting, like a wistful nostalgia for the quiet found in boredom. If small towns felt how "Drugstore Perfume" sounds, I might not want to leave.

The rugged guitar blends seamlessly into the nasty, grunge-y discord of "Get the Gang Together." It's like a sonic timeskip--everyone's long since drifted apart, as is common of friend groups as they get older and life takes them on diverging paths. But now, Gerard drawls out to his old friends to come back around--and that he "shall need [them] to lie." Allusions to Capitol Station burning down, one of the friends dying, and "blood on the money" imply less than savory goings-on are afoot. Despite the seedy vibe, however, it somehow carries the promise of a good time.

"How It's Gonna Be" looks back on the past and into the future. It sits astride a racing drum beat while pondering elusive fantasies and rose-tinted, bittersweet nostalgia. It talks of living past twenty-five and the sort of empty confusion that follows when you didn't expect to get this far. Still, the airy synths create a triumphant, uplifting feeling, encapsulating the whimsy, excitement, and precarity of the open road ahead.

Gerard caps off the album with "Maya the Psychic." From the first verse onward, Gerard conjures images of teenage espers fighting extraterrestrial foes mixed with themes of mental illness. High-pitched screech-whistling gives the track an unearthly, uncanny atmosphere. Gerard barrels straight on all the way towards the final repetitions of the chorus, picking up momentum all the while as the track races to its conclusion, culminating in one explosive chord, the guitar left reverberating like the aftertrails of a firework.

//part 4: hindsight_

Hesitant Alien was made at a time when most people were certain that My Chemical Romance was never coming back, including its former members. But then it did come back, five years after Gerard's solo debut. And now, MCR has not only released their first new song in years, but they've also gone on world tour. Gerard's gone back to the theatricism of old. His costumes, from a tank top and oil-slicked arms to a bloodstained white suit and Meta-branded ski mask to a literal clown suit, have whipped the newly-resurrected fandom into a frenzy. Even in his solo projects, nothing he's released sounds quite the same.

Where does that leave this album, then?

I keyed onto My Chemical Romance much later than most, but I was sucked in all the same. It took some getting used to their genres of choice, but it was endlessly fascinating. I was captivated by the artistry of it all, and as an artist myself, I wanted to study their career, to understand how they caught grease-fire lightning in a crusty soda can. That interest extended to Gerard's other work, including this album. The colorful suits and retro sci-fi TV show aesthetic appealed to me much more than the vampires, mass murder, and parades of the dead. But now that MCR's back, Hesitant Alien feels less like the beginning of a new chapter and more a glittery blip in Gerard's artistic journey. Still, that disparity doesn't diminish its value; in fact, its singularity is precisely why it matters.

//part 5: in which i remember i'm supposed to be writing a review_

So what do I think about this album? It's pretty good. The melodies are pleasing, the instrumental comes together nicely, and the lyrics are fun while offering a good bit of thematic depth. It feels vibrant, like a celebration of creativity and freedom. It's also bittersweet, and carries the weight of the past.

Gerard said once that he fit in by not fitting in--that sometimes, you really are different from everyone else, and he embraced that. And in retrospect, that ended up being true for this album too.