Say Anything is a tough band to review. This is mostly because their seminal album, …is a Real Boy was a game changer in a lot of peoples’ minds, including mine. The raw honesty and vitriol contained throughout the album garnered notice in a musical landscape that was chock full of artists who prided themselves on their heart-on-sleeve emotional styling. As a 24 year-old at the time, I heard the record and was floored. Musically, it wasn’t breaking ground, it was just doing what it was doing absolutely perfectly. Max became the guy that would shamelessly say anything (no pun intended); his lyrics are what most people think but few would say. This was typified most notably on his song ‘Admit It’ calling out pretentious hipsters as being as bad or worse than “the jocks who made their life a living hell”. Unfortunately, like some committed artists (I’m on a pun roll here…wait for it), Max slowly went insane, legendarily going into a metal hospital for a time over the creation of the album. Any time an artist catches lightning in a bottle, it is both blessing and curse; it gets you noticed within the scene, but it also becomes the high watermark by which all other albums will be judged. This is where things get tricky for Say Anything.
To start off, Anarchy, My Dear is not …is a Real Boy, and that is fine. I’d like to think that I’ve grown out of the juvenile need for artists to stay the same and release constant variations of the same album. On the other hand, being different doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily any good.
Anarchy, My Dear starts off quite promising with ‘Burn A Miracle,’ which is also the lead single. From the opening line, “I once courted a boy, he looked a lot like me, but his eyelids were destroyed”, you can hear that Max’s sarcastic take on the world is back in full effect and set to classic Say Anything start/stop riffing. The second track is a gamble, a self titled ‘Say Anything.’ I was expecting this to be a quintessential Max-on-fire, guitars blazing, etc track, considering the name, but what we get is lacklustre. It is a decent love song that builds and builds, but when it finally hits the crescendo, it backs off instead of hitting the accelerator and kicking the listener in the teeth. The band also takes another big risk by doing a sequel to ‘Admit it,’ with the appropriately titled, ‘Admit it Again.’ There is anger throughout and some truly scathing points are made about the current scene, but it just isn’t ringing as true as it used to. ‘Peace Out’ had the potential to be a great song, providing a nice break from some rocking tunes, except that those rocking tunes are nowhere to be found. The clear highpoint of the album is the final track, ‘The Stephen Hawking.’ It is allowed to ebb and flow, and although it has a run time of almost 8 minutes, it feels good and natural. With the memorable moments few and far between, the record leaves me with a constant feeling of expectation but no delivery. This album is understandably different, but if a band is to progress and change, they should be doing something revolutionary and ground-breaking – this is just a bit forgettable. A lot of this record feels like middling pop songs that other bands did better ten years ago.
This brings us to the question of why such a promising band has lost it’s way. Sometimes I feel like Max suffers from being too prolific for his own good (Ryan Adams suffers from the exact same thing), and he could probably write any type of album in any genre of music he wanted to in a week; he’s a song writing master. I mean he’s written probably 2000 unique songs for his song shop, that’s insane. This is also a massive problem. With all that music swirling around in his head, he’s lost track of what makes his band Say Anything in a lot of listeners minds. If I listened to most of these tracks (as well as a few off the S/T) as releases from Max’s indie-pop side project, I would be fine with them, but they have been stuck with the label of Say Anything songs and they aren’t working. Overall, what I’m getting at is that these tracks don’t just sound different to …is a Real Boy, they just don’t sound like Say Anything at all. In spite of the progression the band has made, I feel that the basis of the band’s sound is rock; sometimes subdued, sometimes anthemic, but rock none the less, and this album is missing that foundation. Admittedly, when I look back on the lyrics, the old colors of Say Anything return (oddly sans profanity), as Bemis reveals his thoughts and feelings on pretty much everything with remarkable alacrity. Max can, and does, still weave words that cut to the core of any issue or person, and challenge the listener to actually think. But in the end, Anarchy, My Dear lacks too few bright spots to be considered essential.
Anarchy, My Dear has it’s moments, but the quirky tunes are starting to outnumber the riff-filled masterpieces of the the last 3 albums. I’m sure there are plenty of SA disciples out there who will tell me, “You just don’t get it, man”, and that will be fine. I just don’t think there’s much to get on this record.
Rating: Not bad, not great, middle of the road release from a band capable of so much more.
Vinyl Details (as far as I know):
US Release (Equal Vision) – 300 on black 180g, 2000 on red UK Release (Banquet) – 200 on translucent gold