Gerard Way - Hesitant Alien - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Gerard Way - Hesitant Alien

by Alexander Segall Rating:4 Release Date:2014-09-29

Britpop, to Americans, could crudely be described as ‘Song 2’ and not much else; the irony, of course, that ‘Song 2’ was a song designed to break America and isn’t very Britpoppy, to say the least. Sure, other bands made some small waves, but it seems odd - in fact, very odd - that the singer from My Chemical Romance would release a Britpop album as his debut. For a style so wedded to a time and place, it seems disingenuous to make a Britpop album now, and from the States; when your previous work includes the frankly horrendous (yet commercially successful) The Black Parade, very thin ice is being walked on.

But, to be fair, there’s been a lot of calculation going on. Way’s listened to the sound, he’s taken a lot of the early shoegaze leanings and jangliness, and married it to some sophisticated crunch and a little 70s glam. What jars is the voice. Gerard Way sounds like the snotty teenaged brat from New Jersey that he once was, the comic book-writing, softcore-emoting, eyeliner-wearing and Queen-worshipping star that he became, and this just doesn’t work with the elements of the music he has appropriated from Britpop.

Leaving aside a personal distaste for his previous oeuvre, and a strong aversion to listening to him sing, the music itself isn’t that bad – there’s still a significant element of the pop-punk-emo that served him and his bandmates to a platinum album, but it’s buried underneath layers of jangle and on top of quite thin drum machines. Opener ‘The Bureau’ stomps like a New York Dolls song without any of the sex, and ‘Action Cat’ sounds like MCR with some tambourines on top trying to play college-rock from the early 90s. ‘No Shows’ again has a half-decent power-punk riff and some gratuitous ooh-oohs, and it’s only, finally, on ‘Brother’ that we get something approaching a mid-90s British pop song, at least for about 60 seconds, after which it becomes a big, earnest American pop song.

That’s the main problem with trying to create an artificial paean to a scene in a different country 20 years too late – it smacks of earnestness. Coupled with a peculiar lack of irony and a very broad lyrical template that doesn’t strive for terrace anthem status or biting social commentary, it exposes Way for what he is, a songwriter for the teenagers who worship him, and very good at that. He’s not a Britpop songwriter in the same way that Alex Turner won’t be André 3000.

The album continues in the same numbing vein – ‘Millions’, ‘Zero Zero’ and ‘Juarez’ rattle along innocuously, but don’t stick around in the memory for the gap between songs. ‘Drugstore Perfume’, at least, sonically tries to ape Britpop but fails miserably when Way opens his mouth, and when the drums echo and stomp and the guitars soar. ‘Get the Gang Together’ shows some promise, sounding like a pop-punk band covering a slightly chunky Blur tune, but the album slowly fizzles out in more identikit, not-quite-on-message, scruffy sounding pop-punk. 

He can’t help writing how he does, having the singing voice he has and being influenced by his listening, but he can help what he chooses to do with his talent; this is a failed experiment, one which graphically shows his stylistic strengths and exposes the conceptual fallacy of his choice. One for the obsessive fanboys and girls, who I know are legion. Avoid if you remember the 1990s.

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I've learned from experience that asking US musicians about Britpop is a pointless exercise. They think it means Muse and Radiohead.

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