I won’t lie. I was supremely put off by the fact that Hebrews, the sixth proper full-length from Max Bemis’ brainchild Say Anything, would feature not only eighteen guest stars, but also no guitars. It sounded like a mixture that would push initial listeners to immediately sign off. It sounded too “daring” for a punk band to create something so different. That all being said, it appears safe to say that with this altered sound and multiple-guest assistance, Bemis has finally created the rock opera he’s been reaching for since first writing …Is A Real Boy. But does the execution make for a perfect product? Close, but certainly not “perfect”.
It should be known that each guest star to Hebrews literally brought their own to the record; each lyric they utter are their own (save for a few guests who simply chant/repeat/join Bemis’ lyrics) and all they were initially enlisted for were their vocal delivery alone. The previous parenthetical statement is expressed firsthand with album opener “John McClane”, a track that is so rightfully introductory with a great ballad-like synth tone and features Chris Conley (Saves the Day) and Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids) joining in with Bemis for the last minute. The high-note ending immediately wraps us into “Six Six Six”, the album’s first single and first taste with which listeners were graced. The track features the first of many appearances from Bemis’ better half, Sherri DuPree-Bemis of Eisley, along with Andy Hull (Manchester Orchestra/Bad Books) offering a little verse of his own and Jon Simmons (Balance and Composure) belting out his signature cathartic screams. Following this is a track that could’ve easily found its home on the band’s self-titled record or even on …Is A Real Boy. “Judas Decapitation” is a classic-sounding Say Anything rant track which features Gareth and Kim of Los Campesinos! yelling alongside Bemis, which makes for one of the album’s strongest tracks. “Kall Me Kubrick” is another of the album’s best tracks in that it is probably as autobiographical as one of the most autobiographical lyricists out there can get. The song offers insight to what Bemis could have done differently in his life and where he could have ultimately ended up (“Oh my God, am I gonna choke and die before I even meet my daughter?”) (He didn’t). The ending of the track find Bemis going absolutely insane and passing the vocal reins to sister-in-law Chauntelle DuPree-D’Agostino, also of Eisley.
The second-third of the record begins with “My Greatest Fear is Splendid”, which is wildly reminiscent of Real Boy‘s “Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat” in the beginning. Every Time I Die‘s Keith Buckley offers his pipes during a little interlude which sounded very much like a song by The Hush Sound for a short while. The song offers what is probably my favorite of the album’s lyrics as well (“I invite you to dethrone me…”). “Hebrews”, the title track, expectedly begins with one of the many string arrangements which take the place of any possible guitar work therein. The track takes a close look on Bemis’ views of his own, personal take on Judaism (“The culture shock is all I’ve got”) and features Brian Sella of The Front Bottoms at the tail end of it. The next track, “Push”, is my favorite on the entire record, and I’m not just saying that because of the appearance of the incomparable Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou (but that is a major factor). Some of Bemis’ best songwriting shines through the track and the addition of Weiss’ lyrical prowess makes for some kind of legendary mixture. “The Shape of Love to Come” reflects on Bemis’ past before meeting DuPree and how terrible it all was (“They say it takes some time to find the one you’re meant for. / I spent that time in strangers’ beds”) until he ultimately expresses his gratification for how things turned out (“…and the truth is I can’t be around unless I’m in love. / So thank God I found ya, / thank God I found you”). DuPree-Bemis’ vocal additions on this track make is seem like a harder-hitting Perma song, but it really is a bare as it can get about their relationship, marriage, and family. The duet absolutely shines.
“Boyd” is a faster, heavier track named after the patriarch of the DuPree/Eisley family. It’s a tad unclear what the leading emotion behind the track is, but it’s a wild one and Bemis and his wife hold nothing back, whatever that may mean. “A Look” features yet another of the DuPree sisters, Stacy King, and is topped off with an amazing addition from Braid‘s Bob Nanna. Jeremy Bolm of Touché Amoré makes a rather surprising appearance alongside Christie DuPree of Eisley (yup, another) on “Lost My Touch”, a ballad track about Bemis’ “inability” to create worthwhile Say Anything songs. Closer “Nibble Nibble” features Sherri DuPree-Bemis once more alongside the legendary Tom DeLonge (blink-182/Angels & Airwaves). It’s a collective track which packs bits of those before it together for it to simply explode and end with one last string arrangement.
Let it be known that Hebrews is not …Is A Real Boy. It is not Say Anything. It is certainly not Anarchy, My Dear. In fact, if people didn’t know any better, they may not even find it to sound like Say Anything at all. But the point behind the album isn’t for it to come off as a new punk record from “that band you like”; it’s Max Bemis performing for himself, hoping that you’ll pay attention. Some will follow through and understand while others will fall to the wayside. It’s an excruciatingly difficult record to grasp but once you get what he’s trying to accomplish, your opinion (read: our opinion) doesn’t matter, and all it took to get that point through was a sonic sound shift. Hebrews is a culmination of work expressed not only with honesty, but with a supreme challenge.