It took me a while to get used to Max Bemis’ voice. Because if anyone knows how to milk all the juice out of a snarl, it’s the Say Anything frontman. Before I learned to love a little rebellious streak, I resented the sneering sarcasm in all of the band’s songs. Then, I heard “Alive With the Glory of Love.” And “Shiksa (Girlfriend).” There’s passion and a tender heart in that sneer, which was the point of Say Anything that I was missing.
Anarchy, My Dear, in many ways, is an emblematic Say Anything LP. The treat in reviewing a band dear to your heart is that there’s ample perspective available. Bemis has said in interviews that this album is the band’s stab at a true punk album — the title telegraphs that a mile away. With a flag. But on this album, much like their 2009 self-titled cut, Say Anything seems to strive for a beautiful sound first and foremost. I have confidence that Bemis, drummer Coby Linder and the rest of the band know what a punk album sounds like, because the band behind “Belt” and “Admit It!!!” (more on that later) can craft anarchy without missing a headbang.
So, I am forced to conclude that this punk mission statement is more of a lofty, philosophical theme (because Bemis is coconuts about those kinds of things) than a love letter to the Sex Pistols. Or even Mark Hoppus. On Anarchy, My Dear, that punk rock bray is still there, but it’s wearing a velvet tuxedo; it’s a stack of dirty pictures painted in lush watercolors.
“Burn a Miracle” is a titanic pop-punker that belongs on an album titled “Anarchy, My Dear,” and it is a rightful first single. If every song sounded like this one, the album’s name wouldn’t have such dissonance. It’s full of violent words and a thesaurus worth of poetic turns of phrase. In many way, it sounds the most like a song off of … Is a Real Boy or In Defense of the Genre. It bears mention that the chorus sounds like Bemis is saying “Burn America” at points. It could be intentional. But, he could just be clenching his teeth so hard that his jaw is fracturing.
From there on out, Say Anything churns out a solid album of slightly twisted romantic sentiments that made me love them the first time I heard they had a love song set amid the Holocaust (the aforementioned classic “Alive With the Glory of Love”). The song “Say Anything,” a title they should have reserved for their self-titled album because it’s so meta, is a rousing, irreverent number that reminded me a bit of “Mara and Me,” but with more casual jokes about genocide.
“Night’s Song” name-drops Randy Newman, so it gets some points right away for that. With turns of phrase like “Under the sun god’s stare/I wince my eyes and blossom hives,” it’s clear that Say Anything will forever be a literary treat.
“So Good” is a sweet little tale, led by acoustic guitar, of one of Bemis’ degenerate “greasy chump” protagonists pining after a “conservatively dressed” lass who is, well, just So Good. It’s a clever Romeo & Juliet spin with political and religious references peppered throughout, and sounds a good deal like 2009’s “Eloise,” one of my favorite Say Anything songs. There’s even some plinking pianos and some puns. I like to imagine Bill Clinton singing this song to Laura Bush. Truly, this is the platonic ideal of a Say Anything song.
“Peace Out,” on the other hand, is an Irish insult-jig aimed at an awful ex-lover that’s a hoot. It’s an Adele song for the pop-punk devotee. As Bemis sings “I may be shy and not reply to your scathing review/but I’d rather subsist on venom rather than abstain with you,” and “You hug that pole like a firefighter falling in love,” you may find yourself feeling a little more mean-spirited than usual. Roll with it. Everyone needs an angry, folk-flavored, acoustic ditty once in awhile.
And, in the sequel that everyone wanted, Say Anything releases the metaphorical hounds for “Admit It Again,” a reprise of an earlier treatise on What Is Wrong With People. Like the original, “Admit It Again” is borderline rap, as Bemis systematically dismantles his object of contempt with the napalm of wit. The refrain is a melodic wailing of “Crap rains down.” That is as good a tone-setter as any I can give. Truly, this is the real winner on this album.
Instead of anarchy, Say Anything turned out a fan-pleaser. See, I look at this band as a security blanket of sorts. You can get older. You can get a job in a cubicle. You can pay taxes (or not). You can drive a sensible car and wear khakis. But when I listen to Say Anything, I expect to get that little thrill in my heart — you know the one. The pang of being younger. That’s what they’re here for, and I hope they never give it up for anything.
(1) “Burn a Miracle”
(2) “Say Anything”
(4) “Admit It Again”
(5) “So Good”
(7) “Peace Out”