Sunday, May 27, 2012

Say Anything - In Defense of the Genre - Review

Say Anything's 2004 album ...Is a Real Boy is nothing short of a masterpiece of pop-punk greatness. Rarely does a band come along and release such a brutally truthful album that really just hits the confusion and desires of young adulthood right on the head. And what's more, you wouldn't think that it would be so ridiculously catchy on top of that. For all intents and purposes, Say Anything shouldn't have been able to outdo themselves. And right away, it should be noted that this album is huge. At 27 songs spanning two discs, this album simply isn't very easy to get into. While every song has its redeeming factors (like the inclusion of several guest vocals), the first few listens are quite tiring and just beg to have a few songs removed to make it an easier experience. This album is a grower if there ever was one.

This gargantuan beast of an album begins with a sinister voice-over at the start of "Skinny, Mean Man". Within seconds of hearing the opener, it's made clear that this is a much darker album than ...Is a Real Boy. For the most part, that assumption holds true; while there are some lighter moments that seem far more happy-go-lucky than anything on their debut such as "That Is Why" and "The Truth Is, You Should Lie With Me", even they carry a sardonic undercurrent that most of the previous album lacked. Lead singer Max Bemis manages to find his footing and healthily walks the line between brutally honest and overly sarcastic.

 Let's talk about the band members for awhile (i.e. the only one who matters). Max, while he'll never be an angelic singer by any stretch of the imagination, has definitely improved both his range and tone here from ...Is a Real Boy, and his often humorous delivery helps to offset the darker tone of the album. The lyrics are similar to those from the previous album, although focusing more on love and heartbreak be it literal or metaphorical, and Bemis injects twice as much fury on this outing. However, there ARE some truly funny gems to be had here, like "Spay Me"'s 'Cater to me or I'll punch myself until my face is blue' as well as "Shiksa (Girlfriend)"'s 'I remember it vividly love, I've been walking erect since the moment we met'. Bemis's passionate lyrics have always been the driving force of the band and this album is certainly no exception; we do get to see a bit more of Bemis's sensitive side previously only seen in "I Want to Know Your Plans" with the somewhat haunting "An Insult to the Dead" as well as the downright beautiful album closer, "Plea". The guitar work takes somewhat of a backseat to Bemis's singing, which is by no means a bad thing. Overall it's not terribly outstanding, though the little solo at the end of "Vexed", potentially the album's best song, for instance, is among the more memorable moments.

The bass gets some time to shine; "Died a Jew" and "The Truth Is, You Should Lie With Me" both spring to mind. However, Coby Linder's drumming, while excellent on their other albums, is simply underused here; and even when it is implemented, the presence just isn't really felt. However, it's this minimalist 'Bemis and his guitar' approach that delivers some of the best songs such as the aforementioned "Vexed" as well as the simultaneously angry and poignant "Spores". That's not to say that the album lacks big hard-rocking songs; far from it, in fact. "People Like You Are Why People Like Me Exist" as well as "Have At Thee!" are both total in-your-face angry jams. Lastly we have the keyboard, which was used fairly sparingly on ...Is a Real Boy. Well, it makes a more extended appearance here and this more electronically-driven approach really helps add variety to songs like "No Soul", "The Church Channel", "Baby Girl, I'm a Blur", and "About Falling", the latter's keyboard break being perhaps the catchiest thing on the album, excluding maybe the bridge on "The Word You Wield". The previously mentioned guest vocals including Hayley Williams (of Paramore), Chris Carrabba (of Dashboard Confessional), and Gerard Way (of My Chemical Romance) are hardly ever pushed to the forefront and complement the arrangements quite nicely.

However, this album is not without it's faults. "You're the Wanker, If Anyone Is" has the misfortune of being sandwiched between two far superior songs, and the same holds true for "I Used to Have a Heart". Another problem is that some songs are simply too short. The brief albeit stellar "We Killed It" flies by far too quickly to fully enjoy, and that's not including the under-a-minute-long "Hangover Song". Aside from that, there are a couple of songs that don't feel complete such as "Died a Jew" and the somewhat lacking first disc closer "Sorry, Dudes. My Bad".

Ultimately, In Defense of the Genre is the black sheep of the Say Anything catalog thus far. It's less raw and passionate than ...Is a Real Boy but lacks the mainstream polish of the latter two albums. However it is more musically varied than both of them combined and it shows a songwriter taking a different direction than his previous album to much success. If there's one thing that will turn people off, it's the length, but it's worth giving multiple listens, as this album is among the best in the pop-punk genre.


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