I’ve honestly been sitting here all day thinking about how to start this post out, but I’ll just be blunt: …Is A Real Boy by Say Anything is a masterpiece and it’s probably one of my favorite albums of all time. It’s so crazy, but just the right amount of crazy, like the wheels are about to fall off. Originally written as a rock opera, “with characters and everything” (as frontman/lyricist/man-behind-the-curtain of Say Anything Max Bemis says), it just boiled down to one of the most perfect albums of the century.
Of course, this is all just my opinion. I’m just a rabid fanboy over this damn album. That’s why when, earlier this year, Bemis announced the release of Anarchy, My Dear and said that it sounded a lot like …Is A Real Boy, naturally, I got excited. Like, foaming-at-the-mouth excited.
There was nothing wrong with Say Anything’s last, self-titled effort. It was good and poppy, but that’s what it was trying to be. It wasn’t flashy, saying it was a true return-to-form for the band. It didn’t say it sounded like their older, better albums. Bemis described the album as “[Say Anything] trying to be the Foo Fighters”. And it accomplished that, and I was satisfied.
You can see where I’m going with this.
Anarchy has a couple major problems with it, the first being that it lacks the right amount of crazy to even think of comparing itself to …IARB. If …Is A Real Boy is a lion, Anarchy, My Dear is a goddamn lasagna-eating-Monday-complaining-domesticated house cat. During the recording for …IARB, Bemis was high. HIGH. He even mentions it a couple times on the album, most noticeably on the song “Admit It!!!” which he very bluntly states, “I self medicate with drugs and alcohol to treat my extreme social anxiety!” The crazy is simply missing, and there’s probably one person to blame for this, and she’s my next point.
Patton Oswalt once said that nothing kills a career worse than love. Anarchy has one weak point, and it’s that Bemis is madly in love with his wife, Sherri DuPree-Bemis. Sherri sings for the wonderful dream-pop/alternative-rock band Eisley (Stars Wars nerds, eat your heart out) and she has a very good voice. Not only does she influence this album a la Yoko Ono, she actually appears on it. She sings backing vocals on three tracks: one that’s pretty good (the funky “Overbiter”), one that’s passable (the swagger-having “Night’s Song”) and one on which she sounds downright bored, and it shows. “So Good” is Bemis’ second love song directly to her (the first being last album’s decent “Crush’d”), and when she sings “I gotta have you”, it sounds like she hasn’t slept for days and she really doesn’t wanna record this. She can sing, see anything with Eisley or “Overbitter”, but she doesn’t show it on “So Good”.
Side note: last album I could handle drummer Coby Linder’s backing vocals. He did a good job on a song called “Mara and Me”. This album, notably “Admit It Again”, his voice is jarring and cartoonish. Bemis should really look for a better background singer and let Linder stick to drums.
Another problem is how certain songs build and go nowhere. Case in point: “Anarchy, My Dear” literally sounds like Bemis has been listening to too much Lynard Skynard and decided that he wanted to create a lighter-swaying, southern-arena-rockin’ track. It’s weirdly out of character for him, and sounds okay, but it keeps building and ends on a very unsatisfying “big” finish (notice how “big” is in quotes).
Final problem, then I’ll get to the good stuff: the lyrics in this album sound like Bemis. But herein lies the problem: they sound like him, but they sound like a cheap imitation. Listen to the first single, “Burn A Miracle”. The first verse goes as such:
I once courted a boy
He looked a lot like me but his eyelids were destroyed
And his pupils
Kept sucking up data files like noodles
He pleasured himself to the music
Of well-dressed, inbred college students
As his girlfriend starved on the alter
To his blog of the sickening things he will call her
The major problem I have with these is that they use words and phrases like “blog”, “noodles”, and “well-dressed, inbred college students”. It sounds like Bemis trying to stay hip to the game, but he just doesn’t convince me he is anymore. And that’s a shame.
Finally, the good stuff. This album isn’t all bad if you pretend that songs like “Admit It Again”, “So Good”, “Peace Out”, and “The Stephen Hawking” don’t exist. There are a couple decent cuts. “Overbitter” has a great bass line and the chorus is great with Bemis writhing through it, singing “I want it bad, so bad, I want it so bad”. “Night’s Song” possesses a swagger that can be likened to “Woe” or “Belt” from …IARB, which is a good comparison. “Say Anything” is a nice little, acoustic-backed love song in which shifts between quiet-loud-quiet-loud well.
But that’s the problem: the good songs here are too few and far between. Bemis seems to have lost his grit, which is part of what made Say Anything stand out from the modern punk bands. Without it, he doesn’t really posses anything to hold your attention.
SAY ANYTHING – ANARCHY, MY DEAR receives a TWO-AND-A-HALF out of FIVE.
Please to Enjoy: Overbiter, Night’s Song, Burn A Miracle
Avoid Like the Plague: Admit It Again, So Good, Peace Out