Review Summary: Tim Kinsella wishes he could write this album.
If there was one record this year I truly thought was going to disappoint, it was In Defense of the Genre
. Say Anything’s last album, …Is A Real Boy
, while quite good, suffered from being way too long, as songs poured on chorus after chorus until you plainly started to get annoyed. Then, with the new this album would have two discs, on the inside I pretty much gave up on it. I hoped outwardly that it would be good, but I never really expected it to be anything but a worse version of …Is A Real Boy
. When I actually heard In Defense of the Genre
, I pretty much figured out what a giant idiot I am.
has two discs, but it isn’t that long. It ends up being slightly over 89 minutes in length, and while that seems a slight waste of using two CD’s, Say Anything makes it work by filling them with nearly no filler. They have gotten rid of the formula of repeating choruses innumerable amounts of times, and thus instead of each song being around 4 minutes in length, its closer to 3, all for the better. Instead of a bunch of choruses, they add a lot more distinctive parts to songs, breaking away from traditional pop punk song structures a lot of the time and incorporating many different types of music.
The greatest strength of In Defense
is that, while it claims to be defending a certain genre (pop punk you’d figure), its so hard to pin it down to any one genre of music in particular. The best you can do is just call it a ‘rock’ album made by a pop punk band. Where some songs may exhibit a show tunes influence, others are heavily electronic and almost belong at a club. Say Anything bring arena rock back, Descendents-styled punk/pop punk, some hip hop grooves, all while touching on nearly every major genre of music associated with rock and punk music.
While he has a whole band supporting him this time around, Max Bemis, songwriter/mastermind/all around badass of Say Anything, is still the principal songwriter for Say Anything. He’s evolved a great deal from …Is A Real Boy
, and has discovered that throwing in stupid electronics randomly doesn’t make you ‘interesting’, but rather just fun and occasionally exciting, so he’s poured it on even heavier here with his brand of ‘experimentation’ in pop punk. Yeah, its probably been done before, but when you hear a synth breakdown followed by him annunciating in a way only a schizophrenic 12 year old girl would, you can’t help but find him interesting this time around.
Much (that is to say, its sort of a big deal) has been said of all the guest appearances on the record. Over half of the songs feature a guest spot from somebody from the pop punk world, and that could end disastrously. A duet or two is fine, but an album filled with them? Luckily, Max Bemis has essentially recruited the biggest names in pop punk to…play backup vocals to him? Strange yes, but all the guests either make brief appearances in a bridge, or sing backup and harmonize with Bemis. It serves its purpose great; its great to hear some of those voices you love (even if its in a negative way, ala New found Glory and Jordan Pundik), but it also gives you a step away from Bemis’s voice, which while highly interesting in a Daryl Palumbo way (except a LOT less great of a voice), can get a little overbearing with all his annunciations and vibrato.
When the album kicks off with “Skinny, Mean Man” it seems that once again Bemis is going to go on an album long, metaphoric rant against the music industry. it’s the most emphatic performance he’s ever given, and once again the lyrics are ace in a way only Say Anything deliver. It’s the perfect song that was missing from the first album. Then, they present us with “No Soul”. Half of the song is pretty much keys and synth, yet its still undeniably a rock song. Starting off with “There’s something in the way you people smell/Like you’ve got no soul at all”, it expands on all the electronic songs they’ve written, in particular “Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too”. “That is Why” is simply the best ‘fuc
k you’ song written in the past 5 years, as Bemis describes his depravities while explaining how this girl still is quite a trainwreck and not even fit for his moral ambiguity. Oh, it also is the show tunes-y song on the album. To use the one word that came up when I first heard it, “this song rules”.
Okay, so they start out the album in excellent form, but there are still 24 songs left. They can’t keep that quality up for THAT long, right? Well, there are moments where the songs aren’t quite as good as others, but to say it ever gets weak at any moment is crazy talk. “Church Channel” features Hayley Williams of Paramore singing like you’ve probably never heard her song before, in a low, almost menacing tone. It is the first “love song” on the album, and it makes sense that “Shiska (Girlfriend)” comes after, which is the sequel to “Every Man Has a Molly”, as Bemis brags in the chorus he finally has a girlfriend again! “Baby Girl, I’m a Blur” is the club banger, with one of the sickest beats you’re likely to find this year. “People Like You Are The Reason People Like Me Exist” is the first outwardly anti-establishment song on the album, literally being a song about a girl but pretty easily identifiable as another shot at popular culture.
There are even more moments on the first disc that there just isn’t room here to talk about. “Died a Jew” is hilarious, “Surgically Removing this Tracking Device” is another embodiment of Bemis’ schizophrenia, and “An Insult to the Dead” is the first acoustic song on the album, and features one of the stranger vocal melodies on the album (“I put a curse on her, gave birth to her, la la, la la la la”). Disc 1 is pretty much a perfect record, never letting up and building up to “An Insult to the Dead” quite well. As with …Is A Real Boy
, most of the songs aren’t about the music industry, but can easily be taken as metaphors. It makes for a nice double meanings to most of the lyrics, which are filled with both excellent one liners and themes.
Disc 2 starts out in decidedly different fashion, as Bemis states “I fuc
ked someone with words, broke a promise/you’ll forgive but you wont forget” on “Spay Me”. Then comes the title track, featuring the biggest name on the album, Gerard Way. Being a much more focused and less wandering “Chia-Like, I Shall Grow”, Bemis tells the detractors of his “genre of music” that no matter how much they may hate the umbrella they put him under, he still gets under their skin and gets stuck in their minds, and points out the irony that many of those magazines would have pushed his band before the “emo-backlash”. Disc 2 features more mid tempo songs, such as “The Word You Wield”, which explodes into “Whoah-oh’s by its chorus. “About Falling” has one of the most love/hate singers around today, that dude from Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. He is used excellently, as instead of ‘flexing’ his annoying tone, he stays in one place and sings his part without incidence and making the song better, exactly what any guest should do.
Disc 2 is slightly less in quality, if only because it has songs that don’t make you immediately say “damn, this is good”. “Spores” is still a great song, but it doesn’t do anything that jumps at out you like all of Disc 1, which feels slightly disappointing after you’ve been spoiled by the first half. It also features the albums best songs though, “Have At Thee” is a great reminiscing song, as Bemis states he is going to “Go out and get crunk with me friends!” after the dissolution of his relationship with his girlfriend. It partners well with “Hangover Song”, which while not deep lyrically, describes the hell of a hangover quite well (and has some of the best accordion usage in a pop song). “Plea” is the best song Say Anything have yet to write; featuring Hayley Williams once again and Kenny Vassoli from The Startling Line, its absolutely honest in its yearning and touching in that honesty. While Bemis sings “Maybe someday we could be the king and queen of all we see” Hayley sings in response “Make me believe you mean this/I’ll believe it when I see it”.
In Defense of the Genre
is almost what …Is A Real Boy
was hyped to be; the second coming of pop punk. It certainly shows that the genre still has plenty of room to grow and is thriving, and that Say Anything are inarguably the best pop punk band out there. However, it also shows how impacting simple music at heart can be, and how you don’t have to include tons of dynamics and technical playing and silly time signatures to be interesting musically. Sometimes, all it takes is throwing in that unexpected instrument, and by making that inclusion more subtle than you expect, not nearly as tacky as it should be. Max Bemis is establishing himself as the leading songwriter of the latest generation to become adults, and he could eventually have an impact on the level of a Bob Dylan if he stops being quite so pretentious. In Defense of the Genre
is the best major label release of the year, and the most surprising album to boot. If you have any interest in pop punk, rock, or pop music in general I highly recommend it. Hell, even if all you listen to is ambient drone black metal, I highly encourage you to at least check it out. Its hit me harder that nearly any album I’ve ever heard, and that saying something, because I do listen to Leonard Nimoy!