Review Summary: And the shit rains down.
In order to see why Say Anything's Anarchy, My Dear
is such an unequivocal failure, we've got to look at what made ...Is A Real Boy
such a fantastic album, given that the former is supposed to recapture some of the latter's glory. Real Boy
was one of those rare albums that seemed like it could have never been created except under the exact circumstances in which it was. The music uncannily mirrored its creator, full of stop-start riffs and time signatures that changed schizophrenically, sounding paranoid, with all of its elements stuffed together almost randomly. Yet there was an undeniable order to the album. There was a feeling that Max Bemis, for all his mental issues, was able to focus every ounce of energy into making the album make sense
, to bring it together into a coherent statement. And he succeeded. Even though soon after the album was completed, he was reduced to pouring soup onto restaurant floors by the spoonful, he succeeded, and the album is now rightly hailed as an influential masterpiece.
So it makes sense that, eight years and some questionable career moves later, Bemis would want to revisit Real Boy
, and I first have to say that, although Anarchy, My Dear
is terrible, at least he didn't go for an all-out cash grab by re-recording or re-releasing or re-anything Real Boy
. It shows that he at least has some
respect for his legacy. That is, however, where the good things end and the baffling things begin. Firstly, Bemis has made some downright strange statements about Anarchy, My Dear
, including references to the album as “true punk,” “edgy,” and “raw.” Obviously, none of those things are true. Bemis hasn't touched punk with a ten-foot pole in years, and this album has been polished to a blinding sheen in the studio, just like the self-titled album was. The difference here is that where Say Anything
was a record confident in its independence from the band's other albums, Anarchy, My Dear
tries to filter the best parts of Real Boy
through a modern, sober, Christian filter, and it just does not work.
Bemis vainly tries to recapture the venomous songwriting that he used to employ, but it's obvious he's forgotten how. He seems to be writing songs for teenagers. Any hint of actual aggression or emotion is somehow diluted. In the very brief moments when he uses harsh vocals, there is always an annoying studio distortion jumbling his voice; it sounds as if it's supposed to enhance his voice when really it holds it back and makes it grating. The sad thing is that Bemis has proven in the past that he can be acerbic without being musically aggressive with songs like “No Soul” from In Defense Of The Genre
, but these songs merely limp along, barely justifying their lengths. Lead single “Burn A Miracle” sounds initially promising but soon reveals the way this album tries to deceive fans into thinking it's something they should pay attention to. The song steals elements from a few other Say Anything songs – the stadium rock feel of “Hate Everyone,” the structure of “Mara And Me,” and most egregiously, the “ha ha ha” melody from “Slowly Through A Vector” – but neglects to include any sort of charm, quickly devolving into a shouty, meaningless mess. In fact, “meaningless” is the best descriptor for Anarchy, My Dear
in general. Even the album's supposed biggest theme – anarchy – is given short shrift even though the entire title track sees Bemis weirdly serenading it. In the chorus he sings, “Anarchy, my dame, I quiver at your name,” and I guess you've got to give him credit for writing a song that embodies the word “quiver” – pathetic in its delicacy – while also using the word “quiver.”
The only time Bemis seems to be writing with any sort of purpose is when he's inspired by his wife, Eisley's Sherri DuPree, who seems to become more and more like Yoko Ono with every Say Anything release. Unfortunately, although Bemis's feelings regarding his wife come across as real enough (juvenile as they are), the music accompanying them fails to lend them any sort of weight. “So Good” is essentially “Crush'd” without the minimal leeway that its wide-eyed naivete afforded it, and it features some of Bemis's worst lyrics of all time – at one point we're forced to imagine what it would look like if Bemis and DuPree combined into a Japanese mech-style robot, and Bemis, spitting in the face of logic, somehow sings it with all the fu
cking sincerity in the world. DuPree, for her part, just sounds bored as she sings, “I gotta have you now,” over and over and over. She is slightly more alive on “Overbiter,” but “Overbiter” is a far worse song, one that manages to be upbeat and plodding at the same time, giving the illusion of motion without ever going anywhere.
None of this comes close to the affront that is “Admit It Again.” Real Boy
's “Admit It!!!” has long been considered one of Bemis's crowning achievements, a scathing indictment of pretty much everyone you've ever known and yourself as well. Now, the biggest problem with “Admit It Again” isn't the ridiculously cheap way that Bemis opens the song with the best part of “Admit It!!!,” it isn't his laughable self-censorship, and it isn't the fact that Coby Linder sounds like the “HOOPLAH!” fish from Spongebob Squarepants
when he shouts, “Again, again!” in the chorus. The main problem is Bemis's fu
cking arrogance, his supercilious lyrics that are essentially a shoddy patchwork of the same bullshi
t complaints you would hear simply by touring the average American college campus. “Admit It!!!” wasn't great just because you could agree with it; it was great because even as Bemis decried all those around him, he decried himself as well. He considered himself the most contemptuous of all, and by accepting that, he accepted the people around him too. Now, he's railing against supposed “issues” that actually mean fu
cking nothing just because it's expected of him.
That is the worst part of Anarchy, My Dear
. Max Bemis is trying to be the hero he's always been to his fans, but he's no longer willing to put in the effort to earn that title. The most surprising thing about his pre-release description of this album is that he could be describing any of Say Anything's previous albums – even the self-titled album could be seen as “edgy” in its own way – but now that he's actually sat down to achieve his stated goal without letting it happen naturally, he's failed. ...Is A Real Boy
felt obsessively planned, but the key word there is “obsessive.” Insanity showed through in many places, clear signs of a songwriter not completely in control of his faculties. So even though every note seemed predetermined, they did not necessarily seem predetermined by Max Bemis. And In Defense Of The Genre
, written post-recovery, was more free, more given over to improvisation, an album made by a man whose mind was kept in check by prescription drugs but whose creativity was left untouched. Anarchy, My Dear
fails because it tries to recapture things that Bemis just doesn't seem to have right now – true discontentment and anger and venom. He is married and medicated and happy, and although it's unfortunate that he made his best music while he was insane, he needs to let those earlier albums stand untouched by cheap ploys like “Admit It Again.” Maybe then we can believe his claim that – right here, right now – he's all he wants to be.