Review Summary: "...is a Real Boy" is both at once immensely satisfying and immensely dissapointing; a grower if there ever was one, but beware of the fact that it isn't the second coming of pop-punk.
Say Anything (AKA Max Bemis and Coby Linder here) are a rock/pop-punk band who really hade very little credibility before the release of …is a Real Boy
. Their previous album, Baseball
was extremely generic and all around terrible, and even Bemis refuses to play any material for it. Recognizing this fact, he set out to make something much more grand with …is a Real Boy
. Whether he succeeded in creating what he wanted to is up for interpretation, but regardless of that, the album is assuredly enjoyable.
Pop-punk gets lost in a lot of monotony; the songs all sound the same since every band has a strict formula they follow. Sometimes they can break out of this (Certain blink 182 material, Coheed & Cambria’s first album, Gatsby’s Americans Dream), which is something Bemis accomplishes here. The songs all seem to have a distinct feeling; whether it’s the slow and droning “Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat” or the epic and moving “Admit It!” Sometimes they don’t do that particularly well (“The Writhing South” is just annoyingly poppy, and “The Futile” is too brazenly spiteful for its own good), but for a whole, the album transcends pop-punk cliché’s in a suitable manner.
Then again, not much innovation goes on in pop-punk in the first place, so its really a relative comparison that makes this album so highly regarded. It could also be, however, the incredible high's Max Bemis has as both a singer and lyricist. Not to overuse the term, but pop-punk also has a rather large dearth of intelligent lyrics, and this is another case where Say Anything transcends their style. Songs like "Alive With the Glory of Love" which documents the separation of lovers in hard times are superbly written ("Should they kill me, your love will fill me, as warm as the bullets" is one of the cuter moments on the album). "Admit It!," the magnum opus of the album, has pointed lyrics attacking today’s scene lifestyle, and eventually how Bemis deals with all of the bullshi
t. Sometimes, his wit and distaste can be a bit much ("The Futile" in particular sounds a bit too
jaded), but as a whole he writes extremely entertaining songs with more than the "lol my girlfriend dumped me over myspace" message bands like Red Jumpsuit Fagarratus give.
Sometimes, it can be a bit much, and that’s when Bemis' songwriting and singing kick into full gear. Well, not quite, but close enough for me to spend two sentences on that and then this. What he does best for the songs is add in little tidbits that make things more interesting. At their core, most of these songs are really quite basic and straight-forward pop songs, excluding maybe “Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat,” and its these extra bits he adds that makes it all the more interesting. Whether it be a guitar tone chance, a synth or key line thrown in, or the sudden appearance of a sultry woman’s voice, he does keep you interested in the songs, if only for a while. He’s also a surprisingly engaging singer; not having a great voice, he makes up for it by delivering most of the songs with more than a bit of venom and bitterness, I mean hell, he got admitted during the recording of this album for what essentially amounts to his immense bi-polarness. He has to hate himself, just a little.
For how great this album is, it gets bogged down in what it should have been. Bemis is a great songwriter, but perhaps he has a problem with knowing when to stop. The songs could all use a chorus (or entire verse section) taken out, and the album clocks in at 58 minutes. What’s happens is a few songs where you're intently hooked, but when the magic of the music and his singing/lyrics wears off a bit, it gets easily tiring. "Woe" for how much fun it is for its first half, gets extremely tedious and repetitive after two minutes. While it normally wouldn't be a giant problem, when the album is an hour long and its difficult to listen to more than 20 minutes of it at a time, you sincerely wish the band would have left off 2 or 3 tracks.
The album is best summer up by its swan song, "Admit It!." Interesting lyrically, passionate singing, neat music, but extremely tiring after a minute or two. But then at the end, there's this huge wave of greatness and realization "(starting at the "I drift..." bridge), rivaling and somewhat comparable to what a tragic hero would experience near the end of any great Shakespearean tragedy. ...is a Real Boy
is, taken in chunks, one of the best pop-punk listening experiences you'll ever have. While a few songs are duds, for the most part you can listen to any combination of 3 or 4 songs here and be satisfied. Much past that, though, and you'll start to get antsy for something a bit less...well, Say Anything like. One can only hope their upcoming double album can fully realize Bemis' vision for the perfect rock/pop-punk record, or else all that talent could end up going to waste for another three years.
Until then, I'll listen to "Belt", "Alive With the Glory of Love", "Spidersong" and "Admit It!" until my ears stop bleeding from all the Atreyu in the world.