Monday, June 9, 2014

Say Anything - ...Is a Real Boy (2004)

I chose to write a review about Say Anything’s album ...Is a Real Boy which was released in 2004. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this band and this album since there were about 10 people in Estonia who knew about them back then and the band wasn’t very well known in the US either, but I sure am glad that I found them. I was in the 8th grade when I discovered them, tried to promote this band to all my friends, but for some reason I was the only one who found joy in listening to an angry, bipolar man singing about yellow and red cats, spiders and killing little girls.
But enough about me and more about the band. 

Say Anything is an American rock band, founded in 2000 by future frontman Max Bemis. Other members at that time were drummer Coby Linder,  guitarists Jake and Jeff Turner, bassist Alex Kent and keyboardist Parker Case. ...Is a Real Boy was their second full-length album, the albums that came after ...Is a Real Boy are not as appealing to me unfortunately, but the one I will be reviewing here was my favourite for years. The album contains 13 tracks and the reissue which was launched in 2006 also included a bonus disc called ...Was a Real Boy, which featured seven additional tracks. The album received many positive reviews from different critics.

It is rather difficult to cram Say Anything’s music into one certain genre, but I’d say they play alternative rock, at least when it comes to this album. It is also said that ...Is a Real boy is a pop-punk album, in fact, Sputnikmusic has said that this is one of the best pop-punk album there is.

...Is a Real Boy was almost wholly composed, written and by it’s frontman Max Bemis. Bemis suffers from bipolar disorder and during the recording of this album he went through several mental breakdowns and was even admitted into a mental institution. Nowadays he is happy and healthy, but the instability can be heard in the lyrics of ...Is a Real Boy.  In fact, the whole album is glazed with Bemis’ mental ups and downs. Nevertheless, his songwriting, especially in lyrics is astonishing. He is witty, angry and brutally honest. His singing is not perfect, his voice is not angelic, sometimes it’s even a bit nasal, but these imperfections make it even more interesting

The album begins with Bemis’ conversation with his therapist, talking about how the idea of introducing the first song gives him anxiety and then he says: „The record begins with a song of rebellion.“ And so it does. The first song of the album is Belt, a rather up-beat song about not selling out and doing his own thing. As Bemis himself sings: „Hey, this is something I have to do for myself“. The song is catchy, includes great harmonies and ends with gang vocals chanting with Bemis, providing a powerful emotion.

The second song is Woe. Again, in the beginning it is seemingly up-beat and energetic, but the lyrics are quite melancholic (but still humorous) and the style of the song changes every now and then. In the middle of the piece he slows down to a softer style, following with a powerful chant and words „I’m still an optimist but it is hard // when all you want to be // is in a dream.“ Woe is an example of this this album’s reoccuring style: sad/bitter lyrics accompanied with a happier melody.

Third song is The Writhing South. The song is really catchy in my opinion. The guitar riffs and words „Hey, hey hey hey // come pollinate me, hey“ just stick with you for days. It starts out strong and slows down, only to grow powerful again towards the end. The guitars get loud, drums faster and Bemis gets even angrier than usual. But to me, the best part of this song is towards the end when he sings the chorus „Across the room, across the room // I hope to watch you writhe again soon“ and you can hear him smiling/laughing. I don’t know why, but it takes the cake.

Next comes the band’s most known song Alive With The Glory of Love. It is one of the few love songs on the album, but it’s not your usual lovey-dovey ballad (well, it starts off with lyrics „When I watch you // wanna do you // right where you’re standing“). It’s based on Bemis’s Jewish grandparents who got separated during the Holocaust. The song is upbeat and one of the most positive tracks on the album. Despite the fact that it’s somewhat strange to hear a grandson sing about his grandparents doing it beneath the wormwood, it sure is beautiful: „Should they kill me // your love will fill me // as warm as the bullets yeah // I’ll know my purpose // this war was worth this // I won’t let you down“.

The fifth song is called Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat. It is definitely more mellow than other tracks and it paints a vivid picture of the frontman’s thoughts during his periods of self-medicating. The song is strange and the stories kind of scattered, but the lyrics are still captivating and even soothing, starting with: „I watch my yellow cat invade my red cat in the yard // the feline war has raged for years // so I assume it’d be too hard // to drive my foot between them // I’d never risk a scratch // just to prove to one or both of them // a cat is just a cat“.

Have you ever wondered how an angry waltz would sound like? If yes, then give a listen to the next song, The Futile. It is really catchy and personally, I really like the drums on this track. They’re nothing spetacular, but perfect for this track. The lyrics are angsty and pessimistic, more than in other tracks: „I’m eating rat poison for dinner // pull the cord from the phone // I am dining alone“.

The seventh song is called Spidersong. Most critics and fans have said that this is the weakest of the bunch and I have to agree. It’s not bad, it’s just not as brilliant as the others. It starts out as a good, upbeat song and I even like the lyrics, but as it goes on, it just gets repetitive and a bit boring. There are no significant changes in the music, which would make the track a little more interesting perhaps. The lyrics are still quite witty though: „You’ve got those tired eyes // all the time // yeah, you need someone // to bring you to bed“. Smooth, Bemis, smooth.

The eight track on the album is called An Orgy of Critics. It’s the heaviest song on the album. The interesting thing is that when one would listen the whole album in one sitting, this song would make them think that there’s another band making a guest appearance. Even though the album is pretty chaotic and versatile, this song is like a sore thumb (in a good way).

Then  comes a true breakup song. Every Man Has A Molly. The lyrics speak for themselves: Here I am // laid bare // at the end of my rope // I’ve lost all hope, so long! // Molly Connolly just broke up with me // over the revealing nature of the songs // You goddamn kids had best be gracious // with the merch money you spend // ’cause for you // I won’t ever have rough sex // with Molly Connolly again“. I can’t lie, I truly love this song. The lyrics are honest, painful and powerful, the music is rich and heavy. This is my favourite track of the album.

The tenth track is Slowly, Through a Vector. It starts out slow and mellow, but goes through many changes later. Although I really like the bass line, I find it to be one of the most boring songs on the album, along with Spidersong. The ending provides some strong emotions though. Bemis’s vocals grow shaky and dark, but then comes the famous „Ha ha ha // show me what you’ve got“ part that leaves the listener a bit puzzled.

The next track is another not-my-favourite, Chia-Like, I Shall Grow. It’s not bad or too repetitive, but to me, it is not too remarkable either. The lyrics are spiteful and witty and the music isn’t too shabby either, but it just doesn’t speak to the listener as much as the others.

Then comes another heartfelt love song I Want to Know Your Plans. Compared to Alive With The Glory of Love, it’s softer and sweeter, perhaps even too cheesy for some. The usually angry and loud Bemis shows his ability to write touching love songs (if you’re into that, check out their self-entitled album and songs Ahh...Men and Cemetery). It is a nice change to hear the usually bitter and angry Bemis sing „You’re what keeps me believing the world’s not gone dead // strength in my bones and the words in my head // when they pour out to paper, it’s all for you // because that’s what you do“. From a girl’s perspective, it’s the perfect song to serenade someone special...or just someone who thinks you can sing.

And there it is, the last track of the album (I won’t review the bonus disc because it would get too long): Admit It! It’s the wordiest piece on the album. Bemis expresses his dislike towards the pseudo-bohemian subculture, nowadays known as hipsters, I guess. He really doesn’t hold anything back on this track, playing with his intonation and pouring everything out. Many critics and fans consider this as the best and smartest song on ...Is a Real Boy. Bemis is also brutally honest when talking about himself: „Well let me tell you this // I am shamelessly self-involved // I spend hours in front of the mirror // making my hair elegantly disheveled // I worry about how this album will sell // because I believe it will determine the amount of sex I will have in the future // I self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to treat my extreme social anxiety“. He speaks truth without any effort at all and this is the beauty of his songwriting.

In conclusion, there are definitely songs on this album that stand out more than the others, some just sound a tad too similar to one another or just blend in the backround. I can say that I personally absolutely love all of the songs on this album, but when I try to be neutral and honest, I have to say that some songs get repetitive and a bit boring, for example Chia-Like, I Shall Grow,  Spidersong and Slowly, Through a Vector. Overall it is a great album, if you’re into chaotic, insanity-fueled and angry alternative rock. I gave it a first try six years ago and I still enjoy it like I used to back then. Give it a listen if you’re interested, you won’t be disappointed.

Maria Roosileht

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