February 18, 2006

On Music: Say Anything

say.anything.jpgI've been listening to Say Anything since they released Say Anything Is A Real Boy. The instant I heard it, I was sold. It's rock, alternative, indie, emo and punk rolled into one giant package but it's strength doesn't reside in the music alone. The album derives most of its strength and charm from its brilliant writing. The album is biting, dark, funny, sarcastic and crude but above all, it's smart. Lead singer and band mastermind Max Bemis is like a cynical Ben Folds. Okay, okay, a more cynical Ben Folds. Neither Bemis nor his compatriots are afraid of being honest with the listener. The result is a truly unique and utterly brilliant album.

The album begins with one line, although if you listen closely, you'll hear Bemis agonizing over its delivery before the first take.

"And the record begins with a song of rebellion..."

Belt immediately kicks in after the brief introduction. It's aggressive, quirky, funny and punky. It's an anthem about rebellion, non-conformity and, most especially, nudity. Woe, which follows, is easily one of the strongest tracks on the album. Although I've heard it a hundred times, it remains one of the most clever, well-written songs I've heard in years. Bemis delivers lines that are at once funny and heartbreaking. "She took pity on me, horizontally, most likely because of my band," he admits, breaking down the wall between band and listener. Stepping into character as a female protagonist, he later exclaims, "I can't get laid in this town without these pointy fucking shoes...my feet are so black and blue and so are you." The message is simple - we're all fucked up and we're all tired and sad (sometimes) but at least we're all in it together.

The Writing South takes the volume down a bit, with an acoustic intro followed by a more serious, laid back tone. At least, until the second verse kicks in. Alive With The Glory of Love provides another hard-driving, upbeat tune but, at the same time, it proves graphic and gritty. It's about the endurance of love in the face of oppression...and sex in public. Yellow Cat/Red Cat is as odd as it's title. Bemis was clearly pissed off when he wrote it. Similarly, someone must have pissed in his corn flakes when he wrote The Futile, a jarring, halting, loud masterpiece that is about exactly what you'd expect it to be. In it, he exclaims, "Shit! Nothing makes sense, so I won't think about it. I'll go with the ignorance. Eat, sleep, fuck and flee; in four words, that's me. I am full of indifference." I know, I know...more angst than a 15 year old boy at a coed sleepover.

Spidersong and An Orgy of Critics are probably two of the more straightforward songs on the album and they suffer as a result. They just aren't as interesting as the rest of the album. They're not quite throwaways, but neither are they key to the album. More important is Every Man Has A Molly. The wall between the band and the listener is completely shattered, as we're informed that Molly has left due, in large part, to the revealing nature of the previous songs. Since we've already bought the album, we're asked to appreciate it, given the apparent sacrifice that went into it. Logically, two big-riffed songs, Slowly Through A Vector and the brilliantly named Chia-Like, I Shall Grow, follow, loud and heavy and appropriately full of lament.

I Want To Know Your Plans, which follows, is one of the greatest songs recorded in the last five years. Period. No debate necessary or tolerated. Here's where Bemis proves to be a genius. The same brilliance, the same grittiness that fuels Bemis' cynical ranting and raving, enables him to write beautifully sensitive lyrics. "You're what keeps me believing the world's not gone dead, strengthen my bones put the words in my head. They pour out to paper. It's all for you, cause that's what you do" he writes. There's a chorus that'll stick with you.

The album closes with Admit It! which is a near stream of consciousness rant against the mainstream, against popular culture. It feels slightly out of place and I personally think allowing the album to close with I Want To Know Your Plans would have been preferable. But then, I'm not Max Bemis.

Say Anything are lots of things. They're incredibly talented, honest, brave, unique, funny and refreshing. Bemis and company deserve to be recognized for this, one of the best efforts undertaken in a recording studio in years. Now, let's just hope they get recognized for it.

Obligatory Numerical Score (ONS): 9 out of 10

Remember, you can get music and book reviews from me anytime over at my other gig.

Posted by Chris at February 18, 2006 7:41 PM

I'm sorry, I'm afraid I can't tear my eyes from that cover. I think I'll elect to say nothing. :D

Posted by: Spring at February 18, 2006 8:08 PM

another CD to buy? sheesh.


Posted by: melanie at February 19, 2006 2:11 AM

John Cusack has a band? Who knew?

Posted by: Allan at February 19, 2006 7:48 AM

I true Emily fashion, I had one iPod earbud poked into my right ear (with nothing in my left ear) at work, listening to the "Friends with Benefit" album (aka One Tree Hill Soundtrack, vol. 2), talking about a great song to a co-worker. I poked my other earbud into his ear. He made a sour face and asked, "What IS this?!" "Audioslave" "YUCK."

He then proceeded to open iTunes and play for me several different indie bands. Say Anything was the only one, out of five or six, that was memorable.

And I figure -- if you can hear only 30 seconds of a band and like them (more importantly -- and REMEMBER them!) then they've GOT to be good.

Posted by: Emily at February 19, 2006 10:07 AM

Were you at any point a blink-182 or box car racer fan? Either way Tom Delonge has a new band, Angels and Airwaves, and I think they may be the next big thing.

I know people of taste tend to shy away from "the next big thing" but, A&A seems to be a fresh approach to all things stale. Delonge and co are releasing a feature length film to be released at the same time as the disc.

Maybe it's the 17 year old in me but I can't wait. I'm sure the disc will not contain the tired routine of dick and fart jokes on most blink releases but the A&A track I heard that was leaked, was enough to make me want to go back for another listen.

Happy President's Day!


Posted by: JackassJimmy at February 20, 2006 8:00 AM

OMG! I totally love them! They ROCK!

(I'm sorry I just lapsed into a 15 year old girl for a minute.)

I was disappointed they didn't have more on iTunes.

Posted by: JJ at February 20, 2006 5:48 PM

Holy carp, I came here to make a comment about John Cusack, and I see that Allan has already done the deed.

Cue the twilight zone music.

Posted by: Alison at February 21, 2006 4:17 PM