Taking on the Posers, One Mental Breakdown at a Time
Third-wave emo’s casket will get spit on by many a writer who dares try to pen a retrospective on the freewheeling, Internet-fused, anybody-can-make-a-record 2000s. With its funny haircuts and eyeline and heart-on-sleeve earnestness, it’s the easiest pinata to swing at of the trends that developed in music over the decade, and also the least likely due for a revival anytime soon. But for any band that got big for an album, only to fantastically flop the second time around (cough, Panic! at the Disco) there was one much more worth your time, that was clearly in it for the long haul.
California’s Say Anything may not seem like the poster children for career emo. An angry, teething on the brink of of blood-curdling furious, schizophrenic lyricist with a history of mental health problems and the desire to express his feelings on girls, self-indulgent rappers, Jewishness, self-indulgent rockstars, and his own self-indulgence? Not exactly the world’s most stable long-term plan. But with a music pallet more diverse than anyone that came up in his genre, Max Bemis has managed to keep things interesting for five sprawling, varied albums.
It may come as a surprise, then, that Say Anything’s sixth album, Anarchy, My Dear, is their best album in a few years because it’s edited down to the bare bones. After a ridiculous double album and a wild stab at pop hitmaking on their last two records, Bemis has chosen to fuse his self-effacing, lovable brand of crazy into a more raw, punk infused sound (with hints of soul) that owes a debt to Detroit-reared punk bands (even though Bemis claims that only the posers claim that on the record’s most furious rocker, “Admit it Again”) like the Stooges and New Jersey’s Misfits. At only 11 songs, with only two heading past the five-minute mark, Say Anything have gone beyond the basics and made something simple and powerful.
The record’s mission statement can easily be found in the opening tune, the handclaps-laden, chant-worthy “Burn a Miracle”, as Bemis is barely disguising the words “Burn America” in the chorus. It’s a powerful tune, calling for revolution, but using straight-ahead punk to get it’s message across, whereas Bemis may have gone towards, say, circus music (like he did on Say Anything’s “Mara and Me”). Then, just when the listener thinks the record is turning towards acoustic balladry on the second song, which is actually called “Say Anything”, the band turns up the noise again. Songs like these two, “Night’s Song” and “Admit it Again”, stick to this formula (starting out in a more unconventional place, but ending up largely rock) on a record where the left turns start to feel like driving straight ahead.
The record heads into a mellower section with the romantic “So Good”, token heartbreaker “Sheep”, and the self-loathing “Peace Out”. The record closes out with its most earnest attempts at Big Pop Songs, on the almost wild, danceable “Overbiter”, synth-reliant “Of Steel”, and the classic rock-indebted title track. Things wrap up on “The Stephen Hawking”, a seven-minute opus that lands closer to “Bohemian Rhapsody” than “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”, thankfully.
It’s an album with a lot to process and can be a bit of a chore to get through, but goodness, is it ever rewarding. Bemis and company have gone down from the majors back to independent Equal Vision, which is kind of a shame, if it means a record like Anarchy, My Dear won’t get the proper push to radio. That said, the band can be proud of a fantastic record that edits down everything they’ve done to its essence without dilution. Sometimes, even the craziest thoughts can become simple and clear. It just takes some really loud guitars.