Say Anything - Anarchy, My Dear
Record Label: Equal Vision
Release Date: March 13, 2012
Let's cut to the chase: is Anarchy, My Dear a direct follow-up to Say Anything's nigh-on-flawless sophomore effort, ...is a Real Boy? The answer is no.
Overall, the band is heading further down the road paved by 2009's Say Anything. All the weaknesses and strengths of that record are intact. Remember when Bemis made that Kings of Leon dis? So many artists get namedrop’d on Anarchy (Stereohead, Randy Newman, Rihanna) that you wonder if he’s trying to start a series of feuds ala The Killers' Brandon Flowers. And there are songs that just don't fit in. Both Say Anything and Anarchy are extended love letters to Bemis's wife, Eisley guitarist Sherri Dupree, and the songs that go against the lovey-dovey grain ("Property" on the last go-around, "Sheep" on this one) feel like lost songs from before marital bliss, and out of place for it. Both albums lack tightness, conceptually speaking. Sonically speaking, on the other hand, there's a wonderful branching out, and the band ups the poppiness factor and the bonkers factor by orders of magnitude. Name another emo band that pulls off seven-minute song suites, jaunty, Queen-reminiscent showtunes, '80s keyboard jams, and liberal use of the hammered dulcimer. Bemis even pulls out "Of Steel," a my-parents-are-divorced-what-do-I-do-now ballad in the vein of Never Shout Never's "What Is Love?" or Blink 182's "Stay Together for the Kids."
Something sure to be more divisive with fans is the trend away from Say Anything as The Max & Coby Show and toward permanent full-band status. Guitarists Jeffrey and Jake Turner and keyboardist/guitarist Parker Case avail themselves spectactularly. The best single contribution to the record, though, is made by Dupree, whose voice is the kind of mellow, quivering thing that sounds tailor-made for alt-country warbling hunched over a Taylor acoustic. It’s the perfect foil for Bemis’s voice, positioned somewhere between the whine and wail of Saves the Day's Chris Conley and the posturing growl of Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley. On the opening track, “Burn A Miracle,” raspy screams have been traded in for a more macho sort of phlegminess, the sort of long and drawn-out vocalization that makes you feel as though you need to clear your throat afterwards. But Dupree-centric numbers like “So Good” and “Overbiter”—this being the best song on the album by a wide margin—are smooth and charged with an intimacy that only a real-life married couple can bring to the table. Think Paul and Linda in a Glamour Kills tee and a ModCloth dress. (Or maybe alt-folk duo The Weepies, were one of them schizophrenic.)
Much talk has been made of the fact that SA is once again working with producer Tim O'Heir, but it might be just talk. ...iaRB's production was raw in the extreme, even down to the synths on "Woe." The sound was defined by feedback, fret squeals, and general chaotic mess. Don't worry, that stuff is still here, but O'Heir's production is slick and polished. Everything sounds so crisp and poppy that it's kindof a stretch to claim any sort of link to ...iaRB in the production. The closest thematic link is "Admit It Again," a sequel to ...iaRB's iconic closing track. Bemis is still riled up about the insincerity in indie culture, calling Pitchfork "a stupid website with Satan as its figurehead." But he also uses the song as a chance to better explain what he was getting at the first time around. “I don't define my enemies by the clothes they wear or the pretentious bands they like," he sings, "it's about how you seek to control minds."
I'm not sure if this counts as a revisioning of the original song's intent or not, but it's worth thinking about what appears to be a new M.O. for both Bemis and his band. What makes the bitching on "Admit It Again" conspicuously odd is that it underscores the fact that 2004, this ain't. Anarchy has more in common with Steven Trask's rock opera Hedwig and the Angry Inch, an early Bemis influence, than it does with any SA album prior. On the title track, Bemis sings, "Anarchy, my dear/The brazen and the queer/I bow before you/Anarchy, my dear." He's not talking about politics; I wouldn't count on the GDP rally gig anytime soon. He's talking about anarchy as personal freedom to be brazen or queer or whatever you want to be. And that's punk, as punk as punk can be. This time around, the tone has shifted from one of chastising others to one of flying your own freak flag.