Fifteen songs and three and a half years in the making. ‘Remember the Laughter’ is Ray Toro‘s first notable musical work since My Chemical Romance‘s disbanding in 2013 (not including his input on James Dewees of The Get Up Kids‘ side project Reggie and the Full Effect‘s sixth album ‘No Country for Old Musicians). Toro plays almost everything on the album in addition to recording, mixing and mastering which, for the most part, is done relatively well (some dodgy Garageband-esque autotune and reverb). This is no mean feat, despite the time lapse, a lot of effort has clearly been spent on this labour of love. This is a ‘light’ concept album, a tribute to Toro’s late father, and a memento for his son to remember him by.
Reading the story behind this piece prior to its first listening offers an incredibly promising perspective. Here, a middle-aged man returns to the home he lived in as a child where he discovers, for the first time, a memory box with various trinkets contained within (pictures of these very real objects are displayed at www.raytoro.com), with each recollection triggering a song. Hopefully Toro’s young boy will grow to love this album most dearly above all others, as it captures a distinct aesthetic while it tells its certain, personally unique, thematic story. It is said to be about hope, and how there is “always a glimmer of light in the darkness”.
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‘Remember the Laughter’ is an ambitious record, ambitious in a similar way to Bright Eyes‘ ‘Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground’ in which Conor Oberst sings, “Next time he will not aim so high. Yeah, next time, neither will I.” and then puts out his, considerably musically simpler mainstream-lauded ‘I’m Wide Awake it’s Morning’ three years later. There is much musical input and interaction in ‘Lifted’ (as there is on this album), with the massive, diverse instrumentation, choral vocals, harmonies, and ornamentation all underpinned by a gorgeous lo-fi aesthetic charm. This album sounds poppier in comparison, reminiscent of synthpop indie bands, like a more musically diverse, less animated and more introspective brother album of Norway’s The Sounds.
In addition to the classic rock instrumentation, the piano, keyboards and other programming, there is liberal use of samples, samples that are charming, prettily dirty and clearly holding special significance. This is not some hardcore punk band starting off a song with a semi-humorous, semi-serious argument between a PoC and a corrupt police officer, nor a horror-core rapper sampling a splatter B-movie to support its spooky vibe. These samples are included because they are tantamount to the story; the only samples that would fit with integrity. Perhaps the most notable thing about this album is how beautiful it is in this way, thematically.
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Despite all this, from a solely musical standpoint, regardless of who is playing or why, this is just an album of mainly mediocre pop rock songs. Despite diverse and occasionally interestingly generic instrumentation, offering for interesting contextualisation of the story, most things will seem relatively lacklustre to the average listener. It is not fair to compare this to My Chemical Romance, with a group of (what grew to be) professional musicians collaborating, writing, and improving their music together through; solo efforts often tend to be unrefined and musically unconcise. Musically, this does come across as such, mostly bland with few standout moments, much as ‘The Great Beyond’ bears similarities to ‘The Kids from Yesterday’ in its chorus’ vocal melody.
From a similar point of view, the words that are sung seem lyrically cliché, said before, vague and cursory. Nonetheless, after a couple of listens, a chorus or two is bound to become somewhat of an earworm. There is staying potential, catchiness and sufficient substance to coax listeners back to explore the music’s deeper layers.