So, in preparing for today’s post, I’ve waffled back and forth on how to approach it – a lot. Like, a whole lot more than my usual waffling. My vacillation is mostly centered on a couple of half-thought out ideas, which include:
-Questioning how personal I want to get on the Internet.
-Questioning the legacy of Say Anything (and more specifically, lead singer Max Bemis’ writing) after this album.
-A combination of those two things.
My concerns stated, I want to make it 100% clear: …Is a Real Boy was the right record at the right time. It is as close to musical perfection as one will find in a specific genre.
IARB was released in 2004 (and re-released to the masses in 2006), and is the second full-length release from Say Anything. Since then, it’s reached critical acclaim and brought Bemis and company to the forefront of whatever subgenre you care to pigeonhole them into (emo/alt. rock/indie).
As someone who quite enjoys music (enough to willingly begin and maintain a project such as this one), I’ll probably sound like a heretic when I say this: the lyrics of a song aren’t the most important thing to me. They do play their part, of course – but if a song’s lyrics are poor, I’m not going to not listen to it.
That said, IARB is endlessly quotable. The “gang vocals” littered throughout nearly an hour of music were genius for the time period. Many of them still hold true today, though the music (and for that matter, life) landscape has changed a lot in 9 years – 10 years if you take into account the time it took to write and record the album.
I mention my two concerns because it occurred to me today that IARB got me through a horrifying period in my late teens/early 20s. I’m never sure how much I want to reveal on the Internet, only because I know anything I throw up here is permanent. Word vomit on the ‘net is dangerous, especially if it concerns a person’s family members.
I think I’m alright with saying that I almost lost my mom in 2006 after major complications from illnesses. I had discovered Say Anything not long before, and was bumping IARB every day. As dark and profane as the album can be, somehow it helped. Somehow it was comforting to know that there was another person whose work I respected that had also gone through some trying times, and hadn’t offed themselves, no matter how difficult it got. Not that I’d considered that during this period, but you get the idea I’m sure.
Just like it helped me through the rough patch I went through in ’06, it’s comforting to hear this album in its entirety today – largely because I know I got through it then, and I will this time as well.
My second concern is the legacy of Say Anything following this album. The follow up to IARB is the equally impeccable In Defense of the Genre – which garnered critical malaise (much to my chagrin, because that record rules). It’s common knowledge that following those two albums, Max Bemis stopped doing drugs, got married to one of the chicks from Eisley, and started writing love songs.
I have nothing wrong with love songs. Congratulations on being in love. That’s cool, man.
But that doesn’t change my opinion that, as selfish as this is going to sound (because I admit it is selfish), after the drugs and drinking, the songs aren’t the same. Post-IARB and –IDOTG lacks a certain… panache. There’s an edge – a biting, sardonic tone to much of those albums.
That’s why I’m thankful that, end-to-end, …Is a Real Boy just might be my “desert island” record.
“Belt” kicks off the record with a clip of Max talking to his dad as they drive around, explaining how he has anxiety about the opening line of the album (“And the record begins with a song of rebellion.”). It’s a microcosm of the time period, like a verbal time capsule. The scene was different then. Consider the closer “Admit It!!!” where Bemis goes out of his way to call out scenesters/hipsters.
While the landscape of the scene has shifted since then, it’s still an applicable critique.
Bemis is a wordsmith in the vain of Aaron Weiss from mewithoutYou or Geoff Rickly from Thursday. He writes in such a critical, self-deprecating style that it’s hard to look away. For me, the album reaches its vanity peak on “Every Man Has a Molly” where Bemis sings:
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 Connelly again
His alleged sexual promiscuity is also evident on “Spidersong” where he writes about crawling inside a girl – an entertaining visual, if not one that will spook arachnophobes.
The only downer for me is “I Want to Know Your Plans” – which, I get. I do. I see its appeal. It’s also a good indication of his eventual direction. But as someone who doesn’t care for love songs, I can’t get down with it.
Outside of that tune, there’s such tenacity, such a malicious energy to this record. It seethes. Listen to “The Writhing South” and tell me you don’t feel uncomfortable. I won’t believe you.
So despite how immature this record feels (because of the time period in which I first ingested it), it’s timeless. I can still jam this front to back, no matter how conflicted it makes me feel – and maybe it will have the same effect on you, too.
From …Is a Real Boy, this is Say Anything’s “Chia-Like, I Shall Grow” –
Standout tracks: “Alive With the Glory of Love” and “Slowly, Through a Vector”
Weakest track: Believe it or not, “I Can Get Sexual Too” isn’t even on the main release. It was on the bonus disc “…Was a Real Boy.” That would have been my low point because that song has been played to death. Instead, “I Want to Know Your Plans” is sweet, but I don’t wanna hear love songs. Sorry.
RIYL: Remember when you were in high school or shortly thereafter and listened to this album all the time? That.