Review Summary: On Mara And Me, Max Bemis asserts that he "can't define [himself] through irony and self-deprecation." Watch him try.
Context is crucial because where you've already been is indicative of what you've learned. If any other band released Say Anything
, the critical reaction would likely be divided and full of confusion, but ...Is A Real Boy and In Defense Of The Genre have proven that this is a pop-punk band to be taken entirely seriously. So well-endowed with the power of self-awareness that every word and note is laced with about three layers of meaning, when the electronics and obnoxious chorus of Crush'd kick in there's no doubt where the song sits in the gap between an accidental mis-step and an ironic gem. The difference is minute, but Say Anything are entirely aware that they have done enough up to this point to warrant the benefit of the doubt. When you combine this experience and knowing attitude with the kitchen-sink approach to pop-rock brought by their eponymous LP and some of the best songwriting you'll come across all year, what you're left with is an astounding tour-de-force of the band's most endearing characteristics.
Out of the way before it gets to be an issue: Say Anything
is not better than ...Is A Real Boy. It lacks the sense of completeness and the raw edge of songs like Alive With The Glory Of Love, and the music on offer here is, despite brilliant, markedly less complex as well. But for every instance of normalisation, there's a hook or a twist to make you wonder; songs like Property and Mara And Me are impossible to pin down, the latter in particular writhing through numerous enthralling transitions and closing with a gang vocal chant that Belt would be proud of. And when taken as a whole, Say Anything
changes costume so many times it seems unlikely that the same artist is behind the music. The deliberately clichéd Crush'd is followed immediately by the heavy-as-hell She Won't Follow You, whose chorus is the epitome of spirit and vigour; some tracks, like Do Better, hardly climax while others are geared around a late crescendo.
Guitars switch from clean to distorted, drums range from mechanical to organic, and sometimes the changes occur mid-song. And behind everything is Max Bemis and his frankly awe-inspiring biting lyrical voice. It would be criminal to ruin the best lines in a review but his targets are frequently cultural and named; a single line aimed at the Kings of Leon seems funnier every time it comes around. Sometimes it's his tone that does it - Hate Everyone, in particular, carries a sarcastic slant which totally transforms it from acceptable to excellent. But among these pop culture references and witty remarks lie a few absolute diamonds that bring more of a shiver than a smile. Eloise seems harmlessly passionate until it grows into something dramatic and threatens to boil over, and the two best tracks on the record are likely to render you speechless as they reach their emotional peaks. The closing passages of Cemetery and closer Ahhh... Men are truly masterful examples of immense climaxes to phenomenal songs, and both are likely contenders for best pop-punk song of the year.
For all the praise it's possible to heap on Say Anything
, though, there are a number of tracks on this self-titled album that hold it down. Death For My Birthday simply exists, abstract and melo-dramatic without saying anything at all; though it's hardly boring there's a distinct lull in the record where it sits alongside Young, Dumb And Stung, the latter being easily the record's least necessary cut. Elsewhere, opener Fed To Death is unspectacular, though its acoustic guitar makes it endearing enough, and Mara And Me has unfulfilled potential as it is too fleeting and sporadic to leave a mark in many ways other than its impressive lyrics. But none of these songs are bad; they just fail to live up to the unbelievably high standard that's set when Say Anything hit all the right buttons. To say that the record's great moments outweigh its duds would be to imply a lack of consistency that simply isn't present, it's just that the momentum is tripped up every so often by a less than crucial passage.
But when the end of Cemetery or the chorus of Less Cute arrives those little things don't matter; all that remains is a remarkably intelligent, diverse and enjoyable pop-rock album with soul, instinct and beauty in all the right places. The music is non-stop fun, and Bemis is absolutely on fire, and this is why Say Anything
works as a self-titled record; it encapsulates the strengths (and occasional weaknesses) of a band that's now cemented their place at the top of the pop-punk genre, and it's a moderately comprehensive run-down of why they find that so easy. Catchy, energetic, intriguing and addictive, Say Anything's fourth studio album sees them as exciting and creative as they've ever been, poking fun at the world and themselves while they carve hooks out of nowhere. It's not their best, but that doesn't mean it's not entirely awesome.
Can I lie with you in your grave?