Say Anything’s leader Max Bemis has grown up quite a bit. No longer the bipolar and perennially sarcastic teenager of …Is A Real Boy, Bemis is now happily married and devoutly Christian. His newer songs, therefore, are much more likely to be about God or marriage than girls who touch themselves over the phone. It’s almost a shame.
Reigning in the self-indulgent tendencies that marred 2007’s otherwise stellar In Defense of the Genre, Bemis and his cohorts opt for shorter, straight-to-the-point songs this time around, and this new plan of attack reaps dividends. Opener “Fed to Death,” for example, is a lean 1:36 minutes long, half of which consists of a gorgeous piano and guitar outro that fades into the first single, “Hate Everyone.”
The techno-tinged rock that Bemis has been experimenting with since 2006’s “Wow…I Can Get Sexual Too” is present on two album highlights: the bouncy and sarcastic “Do Better,” which is too catchy for its own good and will likely be Say Anything’s breakout radio hit, and “Crush’d,” an electronic track that contrasts touching lyrics with weird, pseudo hip-hop shoutouts to Bemis’ new wife, Sherri Dupree of Eisley.
Elsewhere, “Mara and Me” is a frenetic, multi-faceted number that sounds like 4 different songs packed into one. The band even manages to diss Kings of Leon somewhere along the way, accusing them of continuing to “write songs about girls” while the world around them is filled with “babies with guns” who are “beheading their friends.” None of it makes much sense, but all of it kicks a lot of ass.
Closer “Ahhh…Men,” while the stylistic opposite of “Mara and Me,” is nevertheless one of the greatest songs Bemis has ever penned. A plaintive ballad which rides a simple two chord groove, the song gently lilts along, until it switches gears midway through and is bucked by a marching style drum pattern that crescendos into a gorgeous explosion of guitars and chanted group vocals. “Cemetery” and “Death For My Birthday,” which fall towards the end of the album, are highlights as well. “Death For My Birthday” in particular is the closest Say Anything has sounded to its older compositions. The weariness in Bemis’ voice and lyrics is palpable, but the song is buoyed up by one of the strongest choruses on the album.
In the end, all of this makes Say Anything the most mature – as well as the catchiest – record in Say Anything’s already impressive oeuvre. The themes are weighty but the songs are hooky. And for someone who had a nervous breakdown during the recording of the band’s first album, Max Bemis seems largely at peace with his life nowadays. Oh, and he doesn’t cuss on this record, which is a first for Say Anything. It’s that damned maturity.