If you discover an artist somewhere in the middle of their career, going back to their earliest release can be disorienting, in my experience. Some artists start off in a place that I love and never stray, but with others I’ll find that I could speak endlessly in favor of every single one of their later albums, but then their earliest release is drastically different in a way that doesn’t precisely click with me. This is particularly true for artists residing somewhere in the rock genre whose earliest work is more aggressive and less refined; I always grow to appreciate it more over time, but it never becomes as enjoyable to me as their later work.
This pattern was a strong influence, I think, in why it took me until recently to pick up I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, the 2002 debut studio album from former rock band My Chemical Romance. Predicting a similar reaction, I put off getting the album, particularly since the CD’s out-of-print status meant it was harder to find and more expensive. A few weeks back, however, my love for the band pushed me to bite the bullet (no pun intended), desiring to develop some familiarity with it even if it didn’t end up being exactly my cup of tea.
I was pretty right about the overall sound of the album; Bullets very much has the tone of a debut album by a then-underground artist. Lead singer Gerard Way’s vocals are raw, frequently closer to (or actually reaching) a scream, matching the heavier guitarwork and rough production quality. Though MCR’s music is nothing if not aggressive (their final studio album falling into that category the least), it feels far more potent in Bullets, setting it apart from the cleaner, more accessible works that would garner them more fame.
However, I was wrong in thinking that the album wouldn’t appeal to me. Particularly given that MCR already falls on the more aggressive end of the musical spectrum, I’m still finding myself impressed on every level that I was instantly enamored with Bullets, my love for it continuing to increase on each listen. Something about the raw realness of it gives it charm (possibly egged on by nostalgia, as it very much reminds me of music I was exposed to back in the early 2000s), and the sheer energy in its drive makes it an incredibly fun listen.
The energy is fairly consistent throughout, with a few exceptions; opener “Romance” is an instrumental guitar piece, its origins uncertain but guessed to be from the 19th century. Dawn of the Dead-inspired “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville” is the album’s solo ballad, accompanied by light guitarwork, though Way’s vocals reach a scream by its close, and “Demolition Lovers” is a compelling balance between soft, subtle segments and aggression on the level of the rest of the album.
I don’t connect personally with the songs as much as I have with their later works, but the album presents interesting (if morbid) stories, from vampires and zombies to various explorations of mortality, including a grim tale of dying lovers in album closer “Demolition Lovers.” It’s a sort of Gothic, horror-inspired aesthetic that they brought to the table again in their sophomore release, and it’s interesting to see where it started.
Bullets is certainly unrefined, and the band grew significantly over the ten years following its release. But if you understand that this was where the band needed to start, it’s hard not to love it and see it as the gem it is. There’s a reason MCR ascended to the heights that they did, and even in their first work, their talent and passion is impossible to miss.