Say Anything - Say Anything
Record Label: RCA
Release Date: November 3, 2009
Bless his heart, Max Bemis sure has no problem bearing his soul. I think his fans know more about him than his parents. Just listening to Say Anything and reading even one interview you can figure out that he is now: religious, married, (dare I say it) mature, and most importantly, in love. Notably absent from this list is “pissed off,” which, judging from the contents of Say Anything, no longer inspires his songwriting. Okay, okay, I know there’s a song called “Hate Everyone” where he is shouting about how he hates everyone, but it just comes off as cute when he declares himself a humanist at the end of the song. And that song is skippable anyway.
The startling opener “Fed to Death,” is a bit confusing. So you’re saying that we should nail ourselves to a cross, Max? This from a guy who declared that he “kill kill kill[s] little girls” not so long ago. Well, whatever. I’m willing to accept the 360 if the music delivers. And by golly (I’ll take a cue from you Max, and keep the swearing to a minimum), sometimes it does! Like at the epilogue of the 1:36 first track. What gorgeous piano playing! Bemis stepped up the musicianship elsewhere on the album as well. Or at least made it more interesting. “Do Better” stands out as a catchy, musically diverse, intriguing little pop song. Lyrics like “Simple as a hint of gas climbing nostrils as you pass / Making Harvard graduates feel childish when they laugh at it / Climb the rungs to kingdom comes / Sour patch to acid tongue” remind the listener of Bemis’ greatest talent: pairing melody with funny and thoughtful lyrics. It’s like “Baby Girl I’m a Blur” with a brain.
At some points while listening to this album, I remembered all of the fun tricks that make power pop so much fun to listen to. Choruses that stick with you give the genre poetic license to be as sappy as it likes because the listener is to moved by the power of the music that the lyrics don’t mean a thing. Take “Cemetery” for example. “You’re in my body, you’re in my body, you’re in my body, that’s where I think about you.” Umm, what? But no matter, the guy sings it over organs and profound drumming (just go with it), and his fucking wife singing background vocals (I’ll throw a quarter in the swear jar for that one Max). It’s gold. At least we know he means it. And then caps it off with a higher-pitched, screaming version of the chorus we’ve grown to love. He knows what he’s doing. And alas, the gang vocals. “Mara and Me” is nearly saved from it’s all-over-the-map song structure by a glimmer of gang vocals chanting “Fake players are the ones who play the game.” Can’t we all imagine throwing a pair of devil horns in the air and shouting this at one of their shows?
The guitar playing on “Less Cute” is fast-paced and contains some classic power chord riffs, but Bemis sells it with the vocal delivery (a huge high point about the album). The chorus is catchy enough to get away with the half-joking “He’s like a Wal-Mart version of you.” What does this mean exactly? But nonetheless, the song is fun and doesn’t slow down at any point during its 3:05 running time. And as lame and musically uninteresting as “Death For my Birthday” is, the chorus really does make me want to listen to the song again and again. So take that for what it’s worth. That pretty much sums up the album for me. Some fun, but at the cost of Bemis’ indulgences. Which brings me to the negatives...
Oh, Max. We understand you have a lot to say. But gosh dangit (do people really talk like this?), the moments when the music stops and you just start talking (“Mara and Me,” “Property”) make me want to die. Can’t the music just speak for itself? What you’re saying is so contrived that as soon as I hear it, I can’t take the entire album seriously. And singing a song to your wife that repeats “I have a total crush on you” doesn’t do anyone any good. Couldn’t you just give the song to her and spare the rest of us? “Did it hurt when you fell from heaven, girl.” This is low-level emo stuff. Come on, man. So Max, are you criticizing Kings of Leon for singing songs about girls while “babies are beheading their friends in shopping malls,” and then saying that you don’t suck much less? Why even mention them? The album is chock full of indulgences like these so you’ve got two choices: lift the suspension of disbelief, meaning ignore Bemis’ less-cool sounding moments, or be entirely distracted and dismiss the album as lacking the growth that might have come from the underwhelming response to the bands entirely indulgent sophomore effort, In Defense of the Genre. Worth listening to? Of course it is. Worth keeping around? Probably only if you want to keep abreast of Max Bemis’ latest goings on.