Thursday will mark the 19th anniversary of the release of Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, the breakthrough album by emo icons My Chemical Romance.

While that will be concerning news for anyone who had meticulously straightened black hair back in the day, it’s as good a time as any to assess the legacy of the band.

From recording in a New Jersey attic to causing a moral panic in the Daily Mail, the band’s rise was meteoric as they became the avatar for emo in the popular conscience.

Having called it a day after album number four, they returned last year to play sold-out arena shows around the world. Here’s their story through their music.

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Vampires Will Never Hurt You (I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, 2002)

High concept would be a theme of the band’s career, not surprising as frontman Gerard Way was working as a comic book artist before the release of first album I Brought You My Bullets…. At the time was working on an idea for a vampire story, and the undead creatures show up on the band’s first single.

I’m Not Okay (I Promise) (Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, 2004)

The song that really launched MCR to prominence, ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’ was an emo-pop banger perfectly crafted to connect with a high school audience thanks to its themes of unrequited love: “forget about the dirty looks/the photographs your boyfriend took”.

Helena – Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, 2004

If ‘I’m Not Okay’ was one for the lovelorn teenage boys then ‘Helena’ was for the girls. “Can we pretend to leave and then we’ll meet again when both our cars collide?” asked Way, in a song apparently inspired by the death of his grandmother.

Welcome To The Black Parade – The Black Parade, 2006

MCR’s third album was an ambitious rock opera about a man who learns he’s dying of cancer, with death coming to him in the form of a cherished childhood memory: being taken to see a marching band by his father. The song went to number one in the UK and inspired the Daily Mail to write about “the sinister cult of emo” from which “no child is safe”.

Disenchanted – The Black Parade 2006

The end of the album sees The Patient coming to terms with his death as he lies in a hospital bed: “As the lights all went out we watched our lives on the screen/I hate the ending myself, but it started with an alright scene”.

Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na) – Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (2010)

The band’s fourth album saw Way indulge all of his comic book love (he’d go on to create a strip based on its story) and it proved divisive among fans at the time. The album centres on a dystopian 2019 where a band of rebels battle the evil corporation Better Living Industries, presented in pirate radio style by ‘Doctor Death-Defying’. Some didn’t like the brighter aesthetics, but the album has aged well.

Vampire Money - Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (2010)

MCR abandoned the concept for the ‘hidden’ track at the end of Danger Days, which took aim at the preponderance of emo/alternative bands appearing on the soundtrack to the Twilight films: “So you wanna be a movie star/play the game and take the band real far… gimme gimme some of the vampire money, come on!”

Gun. – Conventional Weapons (2012)

My Chemical Romance broke up in 2013, but before that they gave fans a parting gift in the form of Conventional Weapons, a collection of songs recorded between The Black Parade and Danger Days. It would be their last release as a group for 10 years, with Way focusing on developing his comic strip Umbrella Academy, which was later developed into a Netflix series.

No Shows – Hesitant Alien (2014)

With MCR off to join the Black Parade, its members worked on side projects. Guitarist Frank Iero released three full-length albums, fellow axeman Ray Toro put out Remember the Laughter in 2016, and Gerard Way released the Britpop-inspired Hesitant Alien in 2014 to favourable reviews.

Read More: Boxcar to Fall Out Boy: The story of emo in 10 songs

The Foundations of Decay – Non-album single (2022)

Released without warning on the eve of their reunion tour, The Foundations of Decay is a six-minute stadium metal epic which whetted the appetite for more new material. So far it has not been forthcoming.


Demolition Lovers - I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, 2002

The closing track of MCR’s debut album, Demolition Lovers tells the story of two lovers on the run who die in a hail of bullets. Fans speculate that they are the bloodied pair on the cover of Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, the concept of which was described as “the story of a man and a woman who are separated by death in a gunfight”.

Cemetery Drive – Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (2004)

The penultimate song on the album recounts the suicide of the protagonist’s wife: “Back home, off the run, singing songs that make you slit your wrists/It isn't that much fun, staring down a loaded gun”.

The Ghost of You – Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (2004)

The fourth and final single from Three Cheers…, ‘The Ghost of You’ references graphic novel Watchmen in its title and deals with the death of a loved one.

Teenagers – The Black Parade (2006)

It would be another two years until the Daily Mail’s moral panic but MCR seemed to anticipate it with a call-and-response song about being fearful of the youth: “so dark in your clothes/all strike a violent pose”.

Bulletproof Heart – Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (2010)

“I’ve got a bulletproof heart/you’ve got a hollowpoint smile” might not work as a chat-up line but it’s a good lyric on a very good song.