Max Bemis isn’t pissed anymore. Well, he’s still got a bit of a chip on his shoulder about a few things, but when you just got hitched to a beautiful singer, wife Sherri Dupree of Eisley, why would you continue to be a shell of a man, one that seems bitter at the world they’re playing their heart out in? Bemis is no longer the little kid scared of the world, maturing from a real boy to a kid set to save it. The band’s self-titled isn’t the double disc venture of last time, but a compact one still attempting different elements of pop: some great, some confusing, all Say Anything.
From the start of the disc, the band’s attempts of “pop,” or something like it, are well received through the guitar work of the opening “Fed to Death.” For a second, the opener shines over the city, and possibly sounds as uplifting as anything from Andrew McMahon vocally, but lyrically, a religious open forum, two stories, the later obviously about Jesus Christ.
Piano leads into the album’s first single, a bitter seeded (or hyperbolic tongue in cheek) Disney sing-a-long that has Bemis, well, hating everyone and everything on “Hate Everyone.” Bemis, through happier instruments, still wears a bit of animosity on his sleeve (“Rich hippie girl with a gas guzzler/forced myself to fall in love with her/she was so strung out she’d swear it never occurred/the honkey king went back on his word/the next one did the same/the blind leading the lame”). This may be what throws older listeners off. The bitten tongue of Bemis and the expected bite of his band has been replaced by the unexpected upbeat backing of strings and hand-claps (“Do Better”), piano drives (“Eloise”) and clean guitar strums (“Cemetery”).
Say Anything isn’t without its heavy side. The guitar solo feels right on the quick paced middle and end of “Mara and Me,” and the fuzz and drive of “She Won’t Follow You” will surely make one remember their days of quick riffs and Drive-Thru. Bemis still has his writing prowess with lines like, “They say rebellion exists in despair and their ironic facial hair/the devil may, or may not care.”
Sure, ballads like “Cemetery,” and the synthesize backdrop of the “Really Max? You wrote a song like ‘Admit It!’ I can’t believe you wrote a cheese chorus like this” mid-album “Crush’d” won’t set well with older fans, but after the bright angst of “Young, Dumb and Stung,” the album closes with what could be one of the best songs of the band’s career, “Ahhh…Men.” Bemis and distant guitar begin the closer, leading into the track’s choral line to back Bemis’ crescendo’d rant, “There’s a crack in the edge at the end of the world/where i will sit with my love in its fluorescent swirl/eat us up, break it down in the tiniest cell/in our room with a view and a window to hell-/with those who bury bodies and the barrels of fun/who will march through museums that display what they’ve done/they’ll be shot up through the sky by a cannon of sin/who will reluctantly let them in.”
The album’s closer and mood seem to sum up Say Anything’s, and especially Bemis’, feelings on how this record will be perceived. Say Anything have put together an album of songs that seems fit to have a self-titled behind it, because this album isn’t as unexpected as many listeners are finding it. Hell, Bemis says it himself: “Wait a second – I can’t write the same damn song over and over again.” No good band should, instead, constantly growing and trying new things, even if sometimes they are the only ones that get it.