Anarchy, My Dear

On March 13, Say Anything released their fifth studio album on Equal Visions Records. Titled Anarchy, My Dear, the album was promised as a return to Say Anything’s Is A Real Boy style. Front man Max Bemis hailed it as a “true punk record” and assured the die-hard fans of Say Anything’s early records they would see this album as a return to form. Anarchy, My Dear, however, is anything but reminiscent of Is A Real Boy-style Say Anything.

Starting off the album with handclaps is a telling omen of the rest of the album. Centering the opening track around the word play between “Burn a Miracle” and “Burn America” is another omen of the trite, forced songwriting that is to follow. It’s not really his fault, but a married man from Texas singing songs trying to spur anarchy just doesn’t seem to work. Max Bemis is no longer the angry and vengeful songwriter he was on Is A Real Boy, but he knows that’s his opus, so with this album he tries to channel some of that passion. And he falls far short.

Usually I would say it’s unfair to keep comparing a band’s new album with the album that gave them their fame. But with Anarchy, Bemis is clearly inviting the comparisons. Tim O’Heir produced both albums, an attempt to return to an early Say Anything sound. Most telling, though, is the fourth song on the album – “Admit it Again.” Bemis calls the song a “sequel” to Is A Real Boy’s closing anthem, “Admit It.” He even starts out “Admit it Again” the same way the original ended, with chants of “When I’m dead, I’ll rest.” It’s a bit disheartening to see Bemis try so hard to please his fan base, with little regard for progressive songwriting.

Anarchy, My Dear isn’t a total wash. Eponymous track “Say Anything,” and poppy love song “Overbiter,” which features backing vocals from Bemis’s wife Sherri DuPree, are two tracks that warrant replay. While nowhere near the Is A Real Boy quality that Bemis is shooting for, their catchy hooks make them somewhat less forgettable than the other tracks on the album, thus making them the two standout tracks by default.

It’s hard to see how Bemis could call this a punk album. It’s more of a pop album than any of Say Anything’s previous releases. Songs like “Peace Out” and even album highlight “Overbiter” are about the furthest thing from a Bemis-style punk song that I can think of.

The fundamental difference between Anarchy, My Dear and Is A Real boy is that Max Bemis is simply not the same person he used to be. When writing IARB, Bemis was suffering from yet-to-be-diagnosed bi-polar disorder. He had a public mental breakdown halfway through recording. He was bitter and unstable, and that shines through on the album. It’s what makes the album so raw and passionate. The album is the embodiment of Bemis’s mental anguish. Now, eight years later, Bemis is on medication and married. He is stable and happy. And that, unfortunately, doesn’t make for great records. Say Anything fans have to accept that the Bemis who wrote songs like “Belt” and the original “Admit it” is gone. So too, is Bemis’s stellar songwriting ability. It’s difficult to rectify wanting a musician to produce quality, and wanting a musician to be personally content. For Max Bemis and Say Anything, there can’t be both. I can either hope his wife leaves him and Bemis once again descents into madness, or I can be happy for him and know I’ll always have Is A Real Boy to go back to. I think I’ll choose the latter. But I won’t be listening to Anarchy, My Dear again anytime soon, either.