Review Summary: At times long-winded and perhaps the least accessible of Say Anything's discography so far, In Defense of the Genre is a grower.
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. So, how does their sophomore release (not counting the independent release Baseball
) fare against their debut?
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 and 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 ...Is a Real Boy
and their self-titled release, 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
and An Insult to the Dead
, 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 hateful rockers. 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, About Falling
; the same holds true for I Used to Have a Heart
and the album's title track. 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 self-titled release. 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.