Review Summary: The portrait of a 20-something, angst-ridden you.
Generally, reviews of most Say Anything albums are prefaced with one (or more) of three paragraphs. The first one paints a picture of the band, with descriptions of where they’re from and what impact that had on the album. Another paragraph would attempt a long-winded description of their sound, where pop-punk with rock leanings would easily suffice (but by no means will be complete). The third will try, and fail, to describe Max Bemis, frontman and general mastermind of the outfit. These will lead into good reviews, but again, they will be no means cover the whole picture.
The best place to begin a review of Say Anything’s 2004 effort titled, ...Is a Real Boy, is to identify the three dimensions of Max’s character. We have Max the musician, a multi-instrumentalist and all-around impressive character, but that only describes the sound. We have Max the lyricist, penning the most heartfelt angst out of his contemporaries, but then again, that only covers the words. Finally, we have Max the lover. This Max, in my eyes, is the most interesting of the three, because he is essentially the other two combined. Max the lover is a mosaic, made of stones for each story he can tell and every woman along the way. ...Is a Real Boy is a celebration of that work, and its most obvious example.
Bringing up specific songs almost devolves into tedium, because each song stands on its own merits. The opener, Belt, rips the curtain from the stage with a searing guitar tone and Max’s cut-throat lyricism. Alive With The Glory of Love, the borderline-popular song, is a surprisingly beautiful tribute to his grandparents, while never crossing the line into sap with his words. Admitt It!!!, the album’s closer, is a venomous, seething attack on, well, hipsters. Without even trying, I’ve essentially fallen into my own tedious trap.
Really, the only proper way to cover ...Is A Real Boy is to work out nagging questions after wiping off the acid from the last song. After absorbing the words, I still can’t help but wonder what, exactly, half of these women did to Max. As an extension, without questioning his integrity as a storyteller, what did he do to them? Each relationship seemed to be mutually parasitic, evidenced by Every Man Has a Molly. Max gets to have rough sex and write songs, but what does she think the relationship was? Was she scared by the lyrics of some song? This is unlikely considering the only obvious example of this would be Shiksa (Girlfriend) and that came three years after this release.
The point is that the previous paragraph was worthless. We can discuss his motivations, the thoughts running through his head while penning the chorus to Spidersong, or even the existential freak-out that is Red Cat/Yellow Cat. But all of that will be wasted, for the only explanation required would be a repeat listen. ...Is a Real Boy is a portrait of an angst-ridden 20-something at the height of his creativity. He doesn’t wear thick-rimmed glasses and he isn’t aggressively atheist; however, he is distinctly you. Each of us can look in a mirror, reflect on the day’s events, run through the conversations one more time, and still see a bit Max staring back.