Review Summary: Say Anything doing what Say Anything does.
Let me start out by saying that I am a complete fanboy of this band. I'm seeing them live in Chicago in April, I have all 3 albums, all the EPs, live audio, and even a belt that says "Naked but that belt around my waist." My username is MyCarAndMyGuitar. I'm going to make this review as unbiased as possible.
As the album starts out with "Skinny, Mean Man", you can instantly tell by the distorted guitar and the low, intimidating voice flatly reading poetry that Max Bemis, the singer/mastermind of everything that is Say Anything, was not going for an "...Is A Real Boy" Part 2. He wants to defend the emo genre this time around. With the help of big-name singers like Haylie Williams and Gerard Way, he might just succeed.
Something the album does very well is doing whatever it takes to keep you interested in what you're listening to. "People Like You Are Why People Like Me Exist" would be the most dull song on the album if it wasn't for the complete left-turn it makes around 5 seconds after the song starts going dry. Tired of hearing Max loathe about his pathetic life in "The Church Channel"? Let's add in a Haylie Williams verse and, why the hell not, some bells. Along with Haylie and Max... Dueting? That's right. They exchange the line "So lay your head on me" several times, making what would be an average track a highlight on an album with 25 other tracks.
There is also a good deal of experimentation going on here. When was the last time you heard a bass drum pattern replaced by a chord strike? It was probably the last time you listened to the chorus in "No Soul", which also has a great break with record scratches and female vocals. Talk about a breath of fresh air! Not all experimentation is executed well, though. "Goodbye, Young Tutor..." is something rare from Say Anything, which is an acoustic sad-sac ballad. With 2 guitars, both turned down low in the mix, the song begs for you to just listen to the words Max Bemis has to sigh out of his mouth. Although it does have some great lyrics, there's just not enough going on to keep you interested. Plus the fact that it's between the exciting minute-long "Hangover Song" and album highlight and personal favorite song "I Used To Have A Heart" doesn't help either.
The flaws on this album are few and far between, but they do stick out. While "Spores" is a good song, it gets boring after a couple listens. "Surgically Removing The Tracking Device" is a bit too wandering and could've used a break in it. Also, I understand "Plea" is supposed to be the "big epic finale" as seen on ...Is A Real Boy (Admit It!!!) and later on their self-titled (Ahhh... Men), but I really can't find a good reason to go back and listen again. It is a great song on paper, but if I ever wrote a song as good as the previous song, "I Used To Have A Heart", I would defiantly end an album with it.
One of the best qualities about this album is its use of guest vocal appearances. While Hailey Williams' voice does wonders for "The Church Channel" and "Plea", Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance fame lends his distinguishable voice on the title track. If you're someone who gets annoyed easily by Max's voice, you're in luck, because these (among other contributions that are a bit less noteworthy, but still contribute positively) provide nice breaks in between his over-emotional and sometimes crass delivery.
"Baby Girl, I'm A Blur" is seen as a dividing line between Say Anything fans, where you either love it or can't stand it. It is very electro-pop influenced and reaches for being a hit. I personally don't care for it but I respect how unique it is compared to the rest of the album. The other single, "Shiksa (Girlfriend)", does a fantastic job at representing Say Anything as a whole. With a catchy chorus, back-up vocals from the rest of the band, and creatively alliterative lyrics, fans cannot be disappointed.
The highlights on this album include the show-tune influenced "This Is Why", the humor-fused "Died A Jew", the acoustic-drenched "An Insult To The Dead", the garage-pop of "The Truth...", the uneasy-feeling, lyric-smart "The World You Wield", the synth-infused and undeniably catchy "About Falling", and, as previously stated, "Shiksa" and "I Used To Have A Heart".
In conclusion, In Defense Of The Genre will surprise you with its excellent use of the double-album format, with nearly no filler, it's smart lyrics, filled with metaphors and alliterations, and it's smartly executed use of guest vocals.