Mad Music Monday: Say Anything
Mad Music Monday is a weekly column about records, written by Courtney Caldwell. Got an album you’d like to see reviewed? Let us know!
TW: Holocaust, Suicide, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, Drugs
As someone who came of age in the pop-punk surge of the mid-aughts, I’ve seen plenty of bands come and go. In those heady Warped Tour days, making a name on the scene was almost as easy as losing it to someone with an edgier hair cut. While many bands I swore allegiance to have faded from memory like the Sharpie X’s that venues marked on my hands at shows, others had lasting power.
Los Angeles-originated rock band Say Anything, is one of those bands. Their 2004 debut, …Is a Real Boy, took the emo scene by storm. So when the album was recently re-released on vinyl by Doghouse Records, I snagged a copy.
Raw and raging, the record took on mental illness, made fun of hipsters (doing so before it was cool, natch), and brought authenticity to a scene that was being overtaken by swoopy bangs and studded belts. Bemis takes on the scene in songs like Woe:
All the words in my mouth, that the scene deemed unworthy of letting out
Later, on An Orgy of Critics the album rails against critics who reward generic music with positive reviews:
You’re so perfect to please us! You make all the right noise!
This thinking won the band some detractors when the album initially released. But they were set on making a rock opera. However, the album was placed on hold in 2003 while singer Max Bemis spent time in a mental institution due to struggles with bipolar disorder exacerbated by drug use. These experiences bleed through the entire album, from the opening words where Bemis expresses anxiety about recording a spoken word intro to the album:
And the record begins with a song of rebellion…
Gang vocals and upbeat guitars punch through the album, and can seem overwrought at times if you’re not a fan of the genre. The music easily stands out from your standard pop-punk fare, but the true gems are in the lyrics. Those of us who have struggled with apathy brought on by mental illness will relate when Bemis wonders through Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat. The drawling guitars only further emphasize the indifference of the lyrics:
I watch my neighbor’s son play with his shotgun in the street.
I think I’ll blaze all day and marvel at the mass of food I eat.
As I look back at countless crossroads and the middle where I stay, right up the beaten path to boredom where the fakest fucks get laid
Of course, this is an extreme example of apathy, but it serves to highlight the over-arching ennui of the song:
These are my friends. This is who they remain forever. This is how we stay.
Religious themes abound as well, with songs like Alive with the Glory of Love highlighting Bemis’ Jewish heritage:
They’ll search the buildings, collect gold fillings, wallets and rings
But Ms. Black Eyeliner, you’d look finer with each day in hiding
Bemis explained this song in 2006:
“My grandparents were Holocaust survivors, which struck a chord with me,” Bemis says. “I thought about what it would be like to be in love and be separated from the person you love.”
On “Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too” Bemis sings about phone sex making him forget the rules his rabbi taught him “in the old schule.”
Not every song on the album hits all the marks, of course. The second half of the album can feel repetitive – or perhaps the subject matter is heavy enough that it feels tiring. Other songs, like “Every Man Has a Molly,” veer toward the problematic. “Molly” is a spiteful song that rages against an ex-girlfriend who had the audacity to dump Bemis after he wrote songs about their relationship:
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.
Still, if you didn’t catch this album on its first go-around, it’s worth checking out ten years later. It definitely holds up musically, is lyrically relatable to many of us who have struggled with mental illness, and a bit of nostalgia doesn’t hurt either!
Featured Image by Courtney Caldwell