Review Summary: Admit it.
Honesty and the absence of artifice are qualities admired by music fans and critics alike, but the impact they have and the level on which they operate is hugely variable. In law, a distinction is drawn between the whole truth
and nothing but the truth
, and such an application of truth and honesty is equally valid in the musical arena. In some respects, the most honest form of music is improvised vocals; on one level, any form of instrumentation is a kind of pretense or artifice. But the layers of honesty pile up; how much darkness is honest, and how far can you reveal yourself before the act itself of baring your thoughts becomes forced and fake? It's a line that can only really be drawn in one place - that of impulse and instinct. As soon as you try
to be honest in an outward manner, it's inherently dishonest; the only way to stay perfectly pure is never thinking about what's acceptable.
When Every Man Has A Molly crawls into life across one picked electric guitar and another wailing in the background, there's simultaneously so much and so little honesty dripping from Max Bemis' vocals that it's dizzying. As he sings, he grins: Here I am, laid bare, at the end of my rope, I've lost all hope - so long. Molly Connolly just broke up with me over the revealing nature of the songs.
Despite the obvious irony in Bemis' lovable, low-pitched whine, there's something unbelievably raw and human about the way he approaches the subject of being too honest. This is the foundation from which Say Anything build a masterpiece - the gulf between what people think and the way they act. Bemis sees it all, and points fingers everywhere (including, frequently, himself); the surface-level target appears to be music scenes, but it runs deeper, to human nature in general, and cuts at every opportunity. ...Is A Real Boy is a record of contradictions, paradoxes and hypocrisy, with enough wit and twists to leave you completely lost, but enough of a message to make complete sense.
Instrumentally, Say Anything are without a doubt top-level pop-punk musicians. Despite being based largely upon raw, mid-tempo guitars, it's one of the least predictable musical performances ever displayed in the genre; Woe's latter stages use a truly anthemic synth line, I Want To Know Your Plans manages not to be a token acoustic ballad (even though it totally should be), and the rhythm section of ...Is A Real Boy struggles with Bemis' frontman role as the album's most impressive showing. Changing tempo 3 or 4 times a song in many cases, there are driving rock passages, head-bopping intros and excellent interludes, all laced with a distorted, raw tone that brings a unique atmosphere which runs all the way from start to finish. Pianos soften certain passages, gang vocals are used phenomenally (Belt's so what say you, and all your friends, meet all of my friends, in the alley tonight?
) and though the record is lyrically dense there are a huge number of guitar lines that are allowed to shine at the right times; the record's outros are especially prominent.
But it's not worth pretending that ...Is A Real Boy is about much other than Bemis. Over the course of 13 songs he tackles apathy, conformity, the Holocaust, plenty of sex, love, and in the absolutely epic Admit It!!! he delivers one of the most exciting, self-aware social commentaries ever to be put to music. Speaking above a mess of guitars he condemns hipsters, scenesters and all manner of demographics, asking what do you have to say for yourself?
before turning it back onto himself: I self medicate with drugs and alcohol to treat my extreme social anxiety,
he shouts, before launching into the album's euphoric final climax. It's special, but it's better than special, because Bemis knows how special it is. And despite his frequent self-deprecation (She took pity on me, horizontally,; most likely because of my band
) he probably knows how special Say Anything's second studio album is, too.
When Admit It!!! finds its way away from you, what's left is a hollow impression of something intelligent, addictive and supremely fun; the irony is that anybody who quotes Bemis is exactly the type of person he's talking about, and anybody ignorant to him is just as guilty of the same misgivings. For all that, though, ...Is A Real Boy is a pretty f**king happy record. It's not even about taking solace in the universal nature of it all, or experiencing any sort of epiphany. Its impression is a lasting one, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable record simply because it's just so well-written. Catchy, diverse and without a single moment of filler, ...Is A Real Boy is an absolute staple of the pop-punk genre and any rock fan's music collection, and if you don't agree, then what on earth do you have to say for yourself?
You are a faker: admit it!
You are a fraud: admit it!