Review Summary: Say Anything's third studio effort proves to be another major success.
If Say Anything's mastermind Max Bemis rubbed you wrong on the band's previous two releases, don't expect your mind to be changed by their third record. Max and crew return three years after the release of "...Is A Real Boy", not counting the re-release, in full force--bringing back everything that made the last album so brilliant and adding four-times the pop. With Bemis not being nearly as stressed and mentally unstable as he was during the writing of his last creation, "In Defense of The Genre" is a much more accessibly poppy and concise album. That may work to the band's benefit or be viewed as a fall from grace, but Bemis undoubtedly displays his impeccable writing ability once again. He brings catchy, incredibly poppy music but with his strange wording and abstract lyricism, creating another foot-tapping album that still holds his creative touch.
Contrary to their last release, Say Anything actually worked together as a band to create this project instead of Bemis laying down everything except the drums. The teamwork is clearly seen with the layered musical segments in songs like the show-tune driven "That Is Why". The group sets their skills to work in seamless fashion, never utilizing filler and keeping you constantly aware of every instrument at work. The synth returns in a less robust fashion and works to great effect in its subtle presentation. On "Shiksa" the synth is still there and distinguishable among the other instruments, but is never blatantly apparent and distracting.
Aside from Max, there are several vocalists appearing amidst the 27 tracks that make up the album. It is stretched over two discs which made plenty of room for each artist that Bemis desired to be heard on the album. He didn't fail to hook some of the most well known names in the pop-punk world such as Gerard Way on the title track and Matt Skiba on "About Falling". They all have relatively small parts and never take away from Bemis' spotlight, but still they add a nice, diverse touch to the record.
The songs all circle around a single story, but could easily be taken on their own. Bemis has stated that it revolves around the story of his temporary insanity and falling in love. This of course makes for some very abstract songs like the charmingly strange love song "Retarded In Love". He uses his unique wording and never-failing strange metaphors to great effect with lines like "They take advantage of him all of the time/Their fingers rape his cavities". That is what sets this album apart from many of the mainstream pop-punk groups today. The group utilizes their wonderful musicianship to create catchy music, but Bemis supplies some truly intelligent and odd writing to make it stand out in midst of the sea of radio-punk.
While Bemis has never had trouble creating addicting music, he brings some of his catchiest work to this album. On the club-pop song "Baby Girl, I'm A Blur", which holds a great deal of synth in comparison to the rest of the record, and "Spores" he uses honest and intelligent lyricism to accentuate the wonderfully catchy rhythms. The latter is one of the more emotional songs on the record as well as the conclusion featuring Kenny Vasoli (of The Starting Line) and Hayley Williams (of Paramore), "Plea". You'd be surprised by how Hayley's vocals on this song differ from how she's heard with Paramore. Indeed, the band brings out the best in their guests to create some truly memorable appearances.
With the silly and overwhelmingly poppy "Sorry Dudes, My Bad" leading you out of the first and into the second disc, you might be surprised with the sudden mood shift. With the opening line on "Spay Me", "I f***ed someone with words, broke a promise", you'll get a taste of the scatterbrained style in which this record is put together. There are several differing genres, all of which the group utilizes wonderfully. From the up-beat, toe-tapping rhythms to the rough, distorted guitars Say Anything somehow keeps your attention through 27 tracks of memorable and enjoyable music. While this is a rather unconventional method of music creation, it is done to great effect and is one of the stronger aspects of the record and only displays this groups sky-high potential.
The personal and honest songs that Bemis brings to the table on this record contain some of the best lyrics that he's written to this date. "The Church Channel" tells the story of his stay in the hospital he was put in after his mental breakdown shortly after the release of "...Is A Real Boy". While keeping that synth-driven, poppy style he successfully tells the story that is continued throughout the record. It's incredible how easily he can place you inside the mind of the narrator and portray his tale with such vivid accuracy. The style is used again with "Sorry Dudes, My Bad" and of course the vividly miserable "Hangover Song". While these are the more blatant examples, he continues with it through the course of the record, telling the story in a cryptic and roundabout way; but still effectively getting the point across to the listener.
While there isn't much musical diversity in the realm of instruments, "In Defense of The Genre" remains a stunningly unique display of catchy rhythms and intelligently honest lyrics. Max Bemis is still the driving force behind Say Anything, but the other members of the band contribute their part and make this record increasingly more enjoyable with the layered guitars and subtle use of synthesizers. This is of course the more accessible Say Anything record with its undeniably poppy music, but still remains lyrically wonderful; never falling into monotonous themes and boring rhythms. It certainly lives up to all the hype produced after the release of their first record, and in some aspects excels where the original couldn't. Still, it remains my second favorite album of theirs, and one of my favorite listens when I feel like engaging a well-thought and honest story.