And the record begins with a song spoken by Satan.
Okay, so that’s not as catchy as the line that began 2004’s superb …Is A Real Boy, but Max Bemis ups the ante with the 27 song, double disc major label debut In Defense of the Genre, an album that blends chaos, attitude, insecurity, and about two hundred guest vocalists into an epic portrayal of and journey through Bemis’ thoughts. In what may be the most anticipated album of 2007, Bemis did not copy what made …Is A Real Boy so good. Instead, he channeled even more quirkiness and brutal honesty into his writing that exudes a sense of confidence not heard on previous Say Anything records.
The first four tracks off the first disc immediately put on display the extreme diversity of the record. “Skinny, Mean Man” begins with the aforementioned Satan voice as the guitars and cymbals clash together as Bemis’ sings about saving a girl from the clutches of an abusive relationship. An aggressive song, it starts In Defense on a great note, leading into the hip-hop flavored “No Soul,” which borrows from “Juicy Fruit,” which was written by James Mtume and was also famously sampled by the late Notorious B.I.G. The big band-inspired “That Is Why” contains a sense of easy going-ness, which is a complete contrast to “Surgically Removing The Tracking Device,” which unleashes a fury of angry vocals from Bemis, with Taking Back Sunday vocalists Adam Lazzara and Fred Mascherino providing the perfect backing compliment. The stark differences between the first four tracks are only the tip of this gigantic iceberg, though.
One of the biggest additions that is evident throughout the album is the increased use of keys and synths, as witnessed in “Baby Girl, I’m A Blur,” the album’s first single. Nearly entirely electronic, the track features a sharp drum beat and subtle guitar riffs. “Retarded In Love” contains some of my favorite composition on the album, with crisp “la-da-da-da’s” led by Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba and backed by a pedal steel. When the track reaches its big pay-off towards the end, you can’t help but smile. Disc one ends with “Sorry, Dudes. My Bad,” a rolling song that touches on problems on tour, and a hilarious spoken segment from Saves The Day front man Chris Conley, followed by his high-pitched voice carrying the bridge.
If disc one is the more optimistic, “I’m in love” portion, then disc two is its ugly step-sister, as Bemis’ lyrics feature more spite and bite than the previous disc did. On “Spay Me,” Bemis exclaims “I’ll punch myself until my face is blue/later you’ll be just as sorry as me for the things you do” and that if he’s “an arrogant prick shitting out heart attacks/then you’re the queen of the damned: feelingless, devoid of tact.”
Disc two also incorporates more mid-tempo and slower tracks than disc one, as cuts like “Spores,” and “Vexed” incorporate this approach but execute it in different ways. Bemis touches on giving up on finding love, while the song builds up to Matt Skiba’s superb guest vocals, as the Alkaline Trio vocalist exclaims “I have no heart/I sold my soul!” Energy and fun ooze from the pores of “We Killed It” and “Have At Thee!,” with the latter describing a night out with friends, getting crunked, and a hilarious line about defecating on front lawns. The final song of disc two and the album is the beautiful and touching “Plea.” Vocally aided by The Starting Line’s Kenny Vasoli and Paramore’s Hayley Williams, their contributions add even more chills. Bemis’ sings with such an earnest and hopeful demeanor, you can’t help but believe in the future and in love when the strings rise and Bemis’ proclaims “But I can’t explain how I feel/and all I know tonight is that it’s real /I’m praying, darling: maybe someday we, together,/can be the king and queen of all I’ve seen” A completely different closer than “Admit It!!!,” but “Plea” still affects the listener just as much as, if not more than, “Admit It!!!” did.
But, just like in any album, especially an album as vast as this, there are flaws. Some of the songs are unnecessary, such as “The Hangover Song” and “Died A Jew.” I would have liked for some guest spots to be more pronounced, such as Anthony Green on “The Hangover Song” and Anthony Raneri on “This Is Fucking Ecstasy.” And with 27 songs, there are bound to be a few cringe-worthy lines, with gems like “Jesus died a Jew/pupils painted blue/you haters know it’s true” being one of the more ridiculous lines. But, strangely, these flaws just add to the concept of this album, that relationships are chaotic and unfocused at times, but also they can be great and change your life.
With all the hype Say Anything has generated for this release, it’s pretty common to see a lot of hate; most of which is foolish. But, when we break it down, you’ll be hard-pressed to find albums this lengthy being so diverse and consistent. Lyrically, it hits me in a way that no other 2007 album has. Yes, Bemis’ writing style is very eccentric and bizarre at times, but that just makes it more real and relatable.
It’s plain to see that In Defense Of The Genre is one of the best albums released this year. But, just like …Is A Real Boy, this is not going to be instantly accessible to many, therefore to fully appreciate and enjoy this behemoth of an album, spend plenty of time with it. Indulge yourself in the lyrics, appreciate the different tempos and varieties used throughout all 27 songs – you won’t regret it. Just leave the sharp weapons at home.