My Chemical Romance were the pinnacle of the emo movement. They were theatrical, yet meticulous. Striking performers on stage, yet quietly tortured artists off of it. The candour and sentiment that adorned their lyrics appealed to the hearts and minds of forgotten kids the world over – and their legacy is still as treasured now as it was at the height of their success, which followed the magnum opus of a rock opera that was 2006’s ‘The Black Parade’.

We shared a love for R.E.M., and more specifically ‘Losing my Religion’

Since My Chemical Romance’s bittersweet farewell in 2013, their guitarist Frank Iero’s solo projects have diced with that same grandiose melodrama, but never fully indulged in its eerie depths again. 2014’s ‘Stomachaches’, released under the moniker frnkiero and the cellabration, did champion unhinged screams and unbridled, galloping guitar lines (alongside that video for the lead single ‘Joyriding’, which was a literal bloodbath!). However, it was nowhere near the heady, eyeliner-donned heights of My Chem’s prime. Both records which followed, 2016’s ‘Parachutes’ from Frank Iero and the Patience, and 2019’s ‘Barriers’ released under their current iteration of Frank Iero and the Future Violents, were softer again. While both leant towards greatness with emotionally charged singles – most notably ‘Oceans’ from the former and ‘Young and Doomed’ on the latter – Frank was evidently indulging in new soundscapes, finding where his idiosyncratic, strained vocals felt most at home.

With his dark teenage heart satisfied by his early career, Frank was free to explore the complete opposite end of the musical spectrum on his latest EP, ‘Heaven Is A Place, This Is A Place’. Taking on one of the most iconic alternative rock songs of the past few decades is no mean feat, let alone coating that track in a shimmering veil of softness – yet that is exactly what Frank has done with his cover of REM’s ‘Losing My Religion.’ Including a cover on a four-track EP might seem like something of a cop-out. However, Frank’s recollections of how the track came together make it seem like pre-destined fate.

Following the horrific bus crash in Australia in 2016, which Frank and his bandmate and brother-in-law, Evan Nestor, were lucky to walk away from alive, the REM classic became an eerily re-occurring feature in their recovery. It became something of a mantra, sound-tracking their return to health and, just as importantly, to happiness.

On their first US tour following the accident in 2017, Frank struck up a connection with his support, Kayleigh Goldsworthy. Frank remembers that: “From the first show I was completely impressed with her musicianship and by touring together I realised she was also a rad human being who I desperately wanted to write and play music with. In my mind she was already in my next band, I just had to write the music, name the band, find the other musicians - oh and, of course, ask her."

“But during that first tour together we got to talking about how she played the mandolin and how we shared a love for R.E.M., and more specifically ‘Losing my Religion’. So, on the last night of tour in San Francisco we found an empty room/hallway/stairwell type place and made an iPhone voice memo demo of the song. It felt like magic and that was the moment I was convinced this couldn’t be the only thing we did together.”

Following their US run, Frank invited Kayleigh to join him on a tour of the UK and Europe. Whilst in London, the two of them, along with fellow crash survivor Nestor, recorded their version of ‘Losing My Religion’ at the legendary Maida Vale studios, to a backdrop of ambient English drizzle and the potent smell of history. From the moment the recording was laid down, the notion that this was something exquisite was palpable in the room. We have all had those distilled, magical moments with music. Whether it be absorbing your favourite song for the first time in complete stillness, or feeling your heart soar as an incredible band plunge into a raging chorus that shakes the stage to its foundations. You will know it when you feel it, and you sense that Frank could feel it too when this track came to life.

‘Heaven Is A Place, This Is A Place’, may only be four tracks long, but it encapsulates the dichotomy in Frank’s musical output perfectly. This new preference towards delicate, layered, anthemic pop-rock is also evident than on the closing track ‘Record Ender’. With a big, fist-swinging chorus and bittersweet verses, it is an unblemished answer to those desperate for more yearning, scything emo tracks – that is not where Frank’s musical heart lies anymore. It is an unapologetic mile-marker in his career; that, at almost 40 years of age, this is his time for calm reflection and considered personal contemplation.

That being said, for those who still dearly miss the days of frothing lyricism that would scare your parents out of their wits, and scything guitars that drip with emotion: never fear! Whether it was stepping back into the world of My Chemical Romance that has done it, or whether it was the realisation that he still has a heart as black as any of us, we may never know. Either way, there is much to be thankful for in the EP’s opening two tracks, which are a deadly coupling indeed! Opener ‘Violence’ is as cut-throat as one could wish for, brimming with a ferocity that threatens to spill over into unbridled insanity. Similarly, second single ‘Sewerwolf’ is nail-bitingly anarchic, with lyrics that sound as though they are being ripped with force from Frank’s throat. Never fear, lovers of darkness- there’s plenty of savage grit left in Mr Iero yet!

Being so open to embracing these new sounds, both old and new, is truly a testament to the kind of musician Iero is. He is able to craft the tracks that capture and inspire him, without being afraid or embarrassed to crank up the passion when he needs to. That is the hallmark of a refined artist, and one whose career – both with the newly reformed My Chemical Romance, and outside of them – is definitely heading skywards.

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