ALBUM REVIEW – “Hesitant Alien” by Gerard Way

The brilliance of My Chemical Romance was difficult to pin down on a single one of their members, their music almost always coming off as the bountiful fruits of collaboration and deep-rooted chemistry. In the aftermath of last year’s surprising but understandable split, it was therefore difficult to ascertain what shape their inevitable solo ventures would take – even more so considering how diverse MCR’s output was. Frontman Gerard Way, who’s unsurprisingly attracted the most attention of the four men, has come out swinging in typically bombastic fashion, and while the visual stylings of the promotional campaign behind Hesitant Alien aren’t a million miles from the last ‘real’ album from his old band, the music is a clear and necessary break from what might be expected of him.

Clearly a deeply personal venture, Way’s first solo foray wears its influences firmly on its sleeve. Drawing in equal measure from noise rock, hyperconfident Britpop and pervasive glam stomp, it passes the initial test of covering a broad enough territory without feeling overstretched. The overarching mood is optimistic, and Way sounds like he’s having more fun than any time since The Black Parade – his enthusiasm for the genres he dabbles in shines through. A raw bassy rock chug underpins his shoegazing performance on ‘Action Cat’, opposed to the more unified Mott the Hoople-with-pianos whimsy of ‘Brother’. There’s a deep timelessness embedded in the material, a product of adhering to a wide spread of influences very closely. If ‘Zero Zero’ is Oasis at their most sneering and bloodthirsty, ‘No Shows’ puts a sanguine spin on The Smiths’ emotive balladry, complete with the biggest and best chorus on the record.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Hesitant Alien is how much focus is put on the music, rather than Way’s vocals. In My Chemical Romance he frequently stole whole songs with his frenzied tirades; here he’s often comfortable enough to play second fiddle to the distorted haze around him, and slots into an understated delivery on ‘Millions’ and the misty, acoustic-brushed ‘Drugstore Perfume’. Similarly, it’s the galloping drums and gloriously silly keyboard solo on ‘How’s It Going to Be’ that makes it a highlight, though his yearning vocals do add a lot to the table there too.

As well as Way has done this first time around, there are some missteps along the way, including the superfluous ‘Juarez’ lodged in the record’s centre and the anti-climactic closing bow ‘Maya the Psychic’, which ironically comes closer in tone to latter-day MCR than pretty much anything else here. For the most part, though, Hesitant Alien is consistent. The biggest issue many will take with it just how close-to-the-bone it gets with its mimicry of Way’s heroes. My Chemical Romance were one of the best bands of the 21st century because they found a way to create albums with clear musical ancestry that nonetheless felt cutting-edge and unique, and the second part of that equation is what Way hasn’t succeeded in here. Moreover, there aren’t really any mega-smash tracks to rival the likes of Famous Last Words, Helena or even Na Na Na.

There’s a lot to enjoy in Hesitant Alien, a clear musical portrait of the man whose name bestrides the cover. A love letter to the sonic anatomy of Gerard Way, it may well not resonate with many younger fans of his former day job who’ve never tapped into the source, and isn’t quite enough to fill the enormous hole left in the wake of the MCR split. To dismiss it entirely for these reasons, though, would be unfair, and a disservice to a man who’s got back on the saddle and made it clear just what he can do through his own vision.

Rating: 7 / 10

Michael Bird

 ‘No Shows’

 

Gerard Way

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