“With great power comes great responsibility.” Surely a meaningful quote, but who can take credit for it? Thomas Jefferson? Sigmund Freud? Socrates? Nope. Spider-Man. It goes to show how something sort of profound can spring from an unlikely source. Any reluctant underachiever can make a difference: nerdy dude who gets bit by a mutant spider or awkward bipolar kid in a vaguely “indie” punk-pop band. That is the premise behind the band and the new self titled record Say Anything – we are in danger and any one of us has the power to save us. It’s a fitting concept for a cult-favorite band who, on November 3rd, will release a definitive artistic statement aimed at the masses.
Like the origin of any unlikely hero, Say Anything was forged from conflict: a feisty young punk band from Hollywood formed during the birth of “hipster” elitism, always out of place. In that day any group of rich kids with a penchant for the Velvet Underground and enough five o’clock shadow could be paid millions of dollars to be walking billboards for “anti-culture” consumerism. Say Anything shunted pretension, choosing initially to play sincere and nervous rock music and opening locally for the touring bands they closely identified with (The Weakerthans, Rilo Kiley, The Promise Ring). A few years passed and songwriter Max Bemis continued to feel alienated from the collegiate “scene;” He witnessed young rebels devolve into the counter-culture clichés they sought to avoid in the first place, “reverse psychology” victims of homogenized humanity. By identifying this mass-marketed “hip” lie, Bemis found his “arch villain” and, imbued with purpose, Say Anything’s music became a new monster – as theatrically pop-based as it was angular and dark. Influenced by bands like Fugazi, The Who, Botch and Smashing Pumpkins, Say Anything dually expressed its irreverence through sing along punk and almost awkwardly confessional Woody Allen-esque lyrics.
The band soon released their rock-musical debut Say Anything…Is a Real Boy on Doghouse Records, garnered a cult fan base, and then entered a partnership with RCA Music Group. They earned a niche of their own, more relatable than sometimes high fallutin’ “indie rock” bands but more intelligent than the youth oriented “emo craze.” A cathartic live show began to attract thousands of kids a night. Say Anything became unusually critically-lauded for such a pop-based “punk” band. Bemis’s openness with his bipolar disorder increased awareness of the disease’s affect on musicians and led to him creating a close, respectful relationship with Say Anything fans that has endured their success. Their sophomore double record In Defense of the Genre affirmed they weren’t leaving fans behind despite the “hype machine” they’d been placed in. Say Anything’s first two records went on to sell several hundred thousand copies and the band became an underground rock fixture rapidly leaking into the mainstream.
So now what of the good fight? Had their cause fallen by the wayside of the normal mechanizations of the music business? After his tumultuous early twenties, overcoming an abusive relationship and a struggle with mental illness, Bemis was finally able to clear his head. He even fell in love and got married. Informed by this spiritual awakening, he finally sat down to write a record that would encapsulate Say Anything while at the same time naturally appeal to a broader audience. Recorded early in 2009 by acclaimed producer Neil Avron (Everclear, Linkin Park, Weezer), Say Anything’s self-titled record is almost undeniably the one they’ll be known for, highly accessible but replete with dark, sardonic lyrics and musical twists.
It feels like the record the band has been destined to make: one that your Jonas Brother worshipping 12 year old sister and your quarter life crisis Arcade Fire fan big brother can both somehow enjoy. The record explodes with the gnarled, chunky chords of its fierce opener “Fed to Death,” defining the band’s crusade against both nihilism and fundamentalism. The Clash-meets-Queen single “Hate Everyone” cheekily captures the first stage of personal renewal: waking up on the wrong side of the bed. “Do Better” is an orchestral do-good-feel-good anthem for the mentally perverse. “Mara and Me” finds Bemis declaring to fight his alienated nature over a frenetic Mike Patton-eque musical landscape replete with mathcore flourishes, circus music and a “surf” breakdown. “Property” tells the story of the world’s worst boyfriend, skewering modern gender politics and serving an evil 50’s doo wop love song over a punk rock beat. “Crush’d” satirizes Justin Timberlake and Lil Wayne, while at the same time evoking a sweaty, Jewish Coldplay. The proverbial hooks keep coming all the way to an epic resolution, the “Hey-Jude” meets Minor Threat hymnal “Ahhhh….Men.” The record tells YOUR story: it’s both a strange romantic epic and a call to arms.
Like Spider-Man, Say Anything is a bunch of skinny, weird dudes who have been given a gift; the privilege to speak their minds in the venue of mass culture. They aren’t the type of band to take that for granted. Making music, despite being a rather silly preposterous enterprise, CAN actually affect massive change. There are wrongs to fight against: society eating itself, the influence of a corporate controlling power, the death of TRUE morality or even one person feeling their will to live slip away. This album is a weapon for that fight and clearly Say Anything wants you enlisted, laughing like a lunatic and dancing all the way.