And the review begins with a feeling of nostalgia.
Say Anything’s major label debut and second full-length release …Is A Real Boy was released in 2004 to universal acclaim. For me, it was the album of my youth, perfectly manifesting all my teenage wrath, emotion, and feelings of inadequacy. Max Bemis just seemed to get it, and his lyrics mirrored that understanding. Today, I’m no longer the angry teenager, but IARB is still a fascinating exploration into the mind of Bemis, and his various psychological problems. The difference today is that I can actually say that I understand just what the hell he’s talking about without retreating to my dictionary every 30 seconds.
From the opening moments of “Belt”, it’s abundantly clear that Say Anything are nothing like the standard emo groups one would be used to listening to. “Belt” features a healthy amount of social commentary, spoken word, fantastic vocal melodies, and gang vocals. It exemplifies everything that’s so absolutely wonderful about pop punk.
“Woe” is one of the strongest tracks in the first half, featuring driving and intricately dirty guitars and intellectually stimulating lyrics. “So now I’m forging ahead, past all the plutocrats who sold me out/Go sob in your bed/If life is twice as pretty once you’re dead, then send me a card.” Bemis relies heavily on painting a descriptive visual picture and using his inherent sarcasm and wit to get his message across, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
We get a sense of how life on the road is like with “The Writhing South”, a track that starts strong, but quickly slows to reveal a fantastic vocal performance from Bemis. If you’re not enjoying yourself at this point, then I suggest finding something a little less perplexing, because this album is a waste of your time. “South” is strongest toward the end, when it explodes into a symphony of loud and crunchy guitars. We can bet, by this point, that this album could (and indeed does) go many different directions. It never limits itself to one particular theme or sound.
The album moves onward to the explosive, emotionally charged love song “Alive With the Glory of Love”, a song set during the Holocaust (understandable, given Bemis’s Jewish heritage) about a Jewish couple who survive, and the man’s never-ending love for her, even with death around every corner. The song is engaging and beautiful, and Say Anything at their most personal.
“Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat” is a strange, hysterically mad song, covering perfectly a drugged out experience with such vivid description. To listen is to experience your own high; the musicianship is odd and matches Bemis’ equally odd vocal melodies.
“The Futile” is Say Anything at their angriest; Bemis’s self-loathing and indifferent lyrics help fuel what is perhaps the best song on the album. At just under three minutes in length, “The Futile” is a quick burst of energy, but it pushes just the right buttons to become one of the band’s most memorable tracks of all time.
“Spidersong”, perhaps the weakest track on the album, suffers from offering nothing interesting to say. That’s not to say it’s a terrible song, but when in competition with the rest of the album, it’s simply redundant and unnecessary. “An Orgy of Critics”, the heaviest song on the album, is a hardcore song in nature, but adds just the right accents of subtle pop punk. Its execution is brilliant and I don’t think another band would have the energy or skill to pull a song like this off. The musicianship displayed here is staggering. The chorus and overall theme of “Every Man Has a Molly” make the track an instant classic. With lines like “Here I am laid down at the end of my rope, wishing I had not been born/Now I’ve spewed too much, I can never shut it up,” Say Anything expose their melodramatic side, but in a very positive way. Melodrama has never sounded so nice.
There’s also a part where Bemis sing-laughs, which is actually pretty impressive and uniquely hilarious. “Vector” is filled with creativity, and an ironically upbeat sound. The guitar-driven opening of “Chia-Like I Shall Grow” is a head-bobbing experience that continues the theme of fantastically surreal lyrics. “I discard all feelings/The stars scar my ceiling/I won’t spare you.” Again, Bemis shows his ability to craft a genuinely interesting and original line. “I Want To Know Your Plans”, an acoustic track that’s especially personal to me, touches on the feeling of the one you love leaving. It’s another emotional display of songwriting; Bemis gives a remarkable vocal performance.
The album moves on to the massive closer, “Admit It!!!” one of the band’s most popular songs. A commentary on hipsters and their ironic and contradictory lifestyle, the song is quite the statement. With intellectual bombshells like “Despite your pseudo-bohemian appearance and vaguely leftist doctrine of beliefs/You know nothing about art or sex that you couldn’t read in any trendy New York underground fashion magazine,” it’s apparently clear whom Bemis is directing his message at. Regardless, “Admit It” is an enlightened song, with some of the smartest lyrics I’ve ever heard.
IARB is still a sensational album, that’s still as relevant today as it was nearly eight years ago. That’s a rare thing, so it makes sense that Say Anything is the band to achieve such a feat. Say what you will about the quality of their music today, but …Is A Real Boy remains one of my most favorite albums ever created.