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Album review: Gerard Way, ‘Hesitant Alien’

“Do you miss me? ‘Cause I miss you.”
— Gerard Way, ‘Action Cat’

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Records/Reprise Records.

It’s been ten years since I spent my nights listening to “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” on a loop using my dial-up Internet connection. My Chemical Romance was a big thing for me. To say the least. In fact, when the band officially announced its separation in March 2013 coinciding with this year’s release of a greatest hits album, “May Death Never Stop You,” I received a number of consolation messages.

I’m okay now. (Trust me.)

But I still found myself waiting in line for five hours outside of the Hot Topic where former My Chem frontman Gerard Way was signing copies of his solo debut, “Hesitant Alien.” There, I made fast friends with my linemates, who ranged from a sophomore at Beverly Hills High School who came with his parents (but made them stand a distance away from us because embarrassing!) to a woman who has a five-year-old child of her own. Most of us are now in our 20s, wearing more color than we used to but still able to get a good harmony going as we sang “Welcome to the Black Parade” a cappella out back of the Hollywood & Highland Center. The MCRmy has grown up.

And the comic book nerd-cum-rockstar who helped us get through high school in one piece is now asserting himself as a solo artist: “Hesitant Alien” showcases what life is like for the now-37-year-old Gerard Way, who is more self-assured and stable but nonetheless a weird outsider.

If we’re being honest, My Chemical Romance was also more or less Gerard Way’s solo project all along. He just happened to be able to assemble a group of musicians who, bless their hearts, let him dress them up in silly outfits and played along with his grandiose visions of serial killers with Catholic guilt and Technicolor dystopias and personifications of death.

One of Gerard’s greatest strengths as an artist has always been his holistic thinking: each release arrives fully-formed, complete with a consistent and strong sense of setting, backstory and personality.

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My prized possessions. SCREAMfmLondon

“Hesitant Alien” is another well-rounded creation. The overall vibe is sort of that of a ‘70s glam rock group trying to predict what music would sound like in 2014. It’s all retro-futuristic with fuzzy modulation, music videos reminiscent of MTV’s 1980s debut era, and an obvious Britpop influence in lyrics that could have been penned by Blur or Pulp.

“No Shows” is by far the best track on the album. It is vibrant noise-pop perfected with slick, reverberating lyrics like, “Weak knees from the level, I’m sick from the treble, I’m your type of metal.” The instrumental breakdown near the end of the song is an excellent touch, and the song as a whole is a great representation of the direction taken on “Hesitant Alien.”

“Brother,” a slower track, offers some insight into the final days of My Chemical Romance. Backed by a rhythmic beat, echoing vocals and his own minimalistic piano accompaniment, Gerard sings, “Does anyone have the guts to shut me up? / ‘Cause I believe that every night / There’s a chance we can walk away.”

Other standout tracks include “Maya the Psychic,” “Action Cat” and “Juarez” (“I can’t swim, don’t rub it in,” Gerard reminds us on the latter in a weirdly catchy hook). On “Millions,” Gerard’s younger brother and former My Chemical Romance bassist Mikey features as a backup vocalist.

Altogether, “Hesitant Alien” is a solid album and a sign that Gerard made the right move in going solo. There are a few skippable tracks (“The Bureau,” “How It’s Going to Be,” etc.), but they all work together well regardless.

Had My Chemical Romance not released 2010’s “Danger Days” and had instead released the “Conventional Weapons” EP as a formal album (as they should have), “Hesitant Alien” would seem like a completely separate musical style from Gerard’s work with the band. However, as it is, it seems like a natural continuation of the music he’s created in the past and is an easy transition to accept.

Onwards and upwards, Gerard. Unleash the fucking bats. Again.

Gerard Way
Hesitant Alien
Release Date: Sept. 30
Genre: Alternative Rock
Grade: B

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Film review: ‘Tusk’ (#WalrusYes)

TUSK

Justin Long and Michael Parks star in Kevin Smith’s “Tusk.” Photo courtesy of A24 Films.

Here’s the bottom line: “Tusk” kind of blows. But. I understand why it blows, and I even appreciate that it blows.

I attended a screening of the film at the ArcLight Cinema in Hollywood, after which director Kevin Smith explained and giggled about his latest horror-comedy.

I’ll try to keep it brief about the actual movie, because the actual movie is not really the point of this movie. The story follows an obnoxious podcaster, Wallace (Justin Long), who travels from Los Angeles to Manitoba, Canada in search of a subject for his next broadcast. He meets with Howard Howe (Michael Parks), a retired adventurer who is looking for a lodger to share his isolated mansion. Howe begins telling fantastic stories of his various journeys until one thing leads to another and it becomes clear that he intends to butcher Wallace, sew him into a suit made of human skin and make him live as Howe’s personal walrus companion, Mr. Tusk. You know how these things happen.

There are a handful of laugh-out-loud funny scenes, but “Tusk” never really gets creepy enough. I was expecting special effects makeup artist Robert Kurtzman’s Leatherface-style walrus suit to be pretty disturbing, but it was just a disappointment.

“Tusk” features some amazing collaborations with other artists, though. Parks is excellent throughout the film. He is equal parts dignified and unhinged, and he appears to take the role incredibly seriously, which is a feat in itself. Johnny Depp appears as French-Canadian private investigator Guy Lapointe, and both Depp’s and Smith’s teenage daughters make cameos as convenience store clerks, which is cute. The icing on the cake is the soundtrack, which includes Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” (of course), as well as a maudlin closing track recorded for the film by former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way.

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Director Kevin Smith speaks at the ArcLight Cinema in Hollywood after a screening of his horror-comedy “Tusk.” SCREAMfmLondon

So, no, the movie “Tusk” is not very good. Like, at all. Not at all. I don’t really have any desire to ever watch it again. But the story behind it is interesting, electrifying and inspirational.

The tale of “Tusk” began a little more than a year ago during an episode of SModcast, the podcast that Smith hosts with his friend Scott Mosier. It starts with an offhanded observation that a joke real estate listing sounds like the premise for a horror movie and turns into about an hour of speculation and laughter about what that horror movie would look like. And now here we are with the fully-realized thing in our actual midst.

It’s not very often that someone happens to record and broadcast the exact moment they conceptualize what will go on to become a major motion picture. With “Tusk,” Smith makes the filmmaking process completely transparent, from the original inspiration to the fleshing out of a plot, through production and culminating with a finished product. He shows the audience that creating isn’t such a difficult process: you too can turn a stupid idea into a stupid reality if you work hard enough at it.

The overall message to take away from “Tusk” is that you should have faith in your stupid ideas. Bring them to fruition. Who cares if other people think they suck? That’s fine. At least you did something you wanted to do. Lots of things suck, and some of them could be yours if you set your mind to it.

I didn’t even like the movie, but I still left the theater feeling incredibly excited about all the stupid dreams I have to pursue. As Kevin Smith told us during his Q&A session, we’re all going to die. Might as well make a goofy horror movie with your friends. Why not?

‘Tusk’
Release Date:
Sept. 19, 2014
Director: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Parks, Justin Long and Haley Joel Osment
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror
Rating: R for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content.
Grade: D+