Review Summary: Chapter 3: Max Bemis’ sterilization.
The most appealing notion of Say Anything’s first two releases (excluding Baseball
, of course) is that it felt like, somehow, Max Bemis understood all of our woes. So many skeletons in Max’s closet were released, so many relatable topics were left exposed, and this feeling of going through challenges along with Max that the fans experienced was why so many held the band in such high esteem. Is… A Real Boy
captured an apt portrait of the teenager inside us all, and was a clear snapshot of Bemis’ mental instability and unhappiness, while In Defense of the Genre
was rather a defense of Bemis himself and his emotions, and him experimenting to find ways to overcome his mental maladies. Such a successful endeavor would inevitably lead to an immediately more impressive follow-up, with our favorite frontman sporting a more level-headed approach to songwriting. However, it certainly isn’t this one; it seems that Max Bemis has lost the faculties to write anything stirring on his band’s third album.
is a self-titled release, and this naturally lends credence to the idea that the artists fully believe the songs contained on it to most acutely represent the landmark they’re aiming for as a band. If this is the case, then I’m worried for the boys as I’ve never been before, seeing as the anthems here ring hollow and forced, and the more fun parts tend to come across as contrived, serving as more of a masquerade to deftly conceal a lack of ideas on Bemis’ behalf. Instead of the more raw and blunt parts stringing together their earlier releases, the emphasis here is on more relatable lines, albeit, more cliché ones that just give the impression that they simply exist to beguile newer potential fans into giving the band notice. It’s funny to think that Say Anything once had clear, understandable messages in their music, told through webs of clever similes and analogies. The messages here are now mostly too specific and impersonal to care about from more than a shallow level of enjoyment, lacking the subject matter that drew the majority of the insecurity-driven fanbase of Say Anything to their concerts in the first place.
It unfortunately seems that the creative edge has been eroding ever so gradually in the past few years for the gentlemen that once wrote the anthems that defined the life of many a teenager. It’s also hard for them to come across as completely sincere when the level of overproduction is overwhelming – gone are the days when unnerving guitar feedback squeaks could be found between the chord splashes, replaced entirely by silky-smooth production that allows for no technical error whatsoever. “Do Better” is quite catchy, but could have been much better if it didn’t give off the vibe of being produced by Mr. Clean himself. Just as a sparkling-clean house is significantly less welcoming than a friend’s cozy apartment with its lights dimmed, the signs of life in Say Anything’s music are what make its guests feel most comfortable. Instead of successfully convincing us that he knows our woes in life, Bemis comes across as more of a man that has everything he wants, having already having dealt with life’s struggles long ago, long enough ago to have forgotten what dismay the troubles of life’s troughs are capable of causing.
It is true that I haven’t given the album enough credit, and that most of this is simply a lack of understanding the album’s purpose, although it is at least an enjoyable release. “Mara and Me” is a definite contender for the band’s best song yet, and serves as a fine example of the band blossoming from their experiences over the years and letting it contribute to their music. “Death for My Birthday” is a thoroughly pleasant narrative that illustrates the importance of appreciating what one has in life, and the imagery Bemis provides through the song’s ending somehow simultaneously meets the goal of being chilling to the bone, as well as being inspirational. These pinnacles of Say Anything’s discography underscore what this release could have been, and makes all the more frustrating how oddly sterile the album is as a whole.
If Max and his friends hadn’t raised the bar so high with their prior music excursions, then perhaps they could get away with their newest release a bit more easily. This is a good album, and boasts some quite enjoyable songs, but the hardest concept to cope with is that Say Anything have reduced themselves to creating only good albums. One can hope that Max Bemis will find a way to both be content with life, and create music that is intriguing and absorbing. As a long-time fan fervently desiring a step up in quality, I must say that if this is truly the direction in which Say Anything want to go, then perhaps it really is time for some anarchy.