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Say Anything’s reissue not worth another listen

Observer Scene | Thursday, February 16, 2006

When Jeff Tweedy left rehab, Wilco released the phenomenal “A Ghost Is Born.”

While Pete Doherty was struggling with a drug addiction, The Libertines produced their magnificent self-titled album.

When Say Anything’s frontman Max Bemis returned to the scene after struggling with psychological problems, his only present was a re-gifted and re-wrapped version of his band’s mediocre full-length debut, “… Was a Real Boy.”

Say Anything’s original release from 2004, “… Is a Real Boy,” received attention for its aggressive guitar-driven emo combined with Bemis’ frighteningly personal lyrics about ex-girlfriends and disturbing thoughts. The musical production was acceptable and Bemis’ openly amateur vocals gave the songs a sincere sound that most commercial music lacked.

Bemis became a textbook tragic character, writing about sex, suicide and politics. But he used more distortion and profanity than Hamlet or Antigone.

The other members of his band, Coby Linder (drums) and Alex Kent (bass), were merely a supporting cast for Bemis’ emotional delivery.

On the re-issue, Say Anything added an extra CD of seven tracks originally recorded for a charity record. According to a press release, Bemis decided to turn the charity record into a separate project after the band earned more popularity, so he could raise more money for the effort.

But maybe it is because Bemis thinks a new audience might be conflicted about buying a charity album that features lyrics about killing children (“Little Girls”) or thank you letters to women for sleeping with him (“Most Beautiful Plague”).

Even the tunes that begin sounding innocent take unpredictable turns towards self-loathing, hate, bitterness and hostility.

The acoustic guitar intro for “Total Revenge” evokes warm feelings until lyrics about sexual inadequacy kill the mood faster than a bad joke at a party. The song takes another turn further from a love song later on when Bemis goes off on a tangent about his appointments with counselors.

There’s nothing wrong with a teen-angst concept album, but when every song is two to four minutes of hysterical, irrational whining, the effect is buried.

If nothing else, the reissue opens the audiences’ ear to the realization of how average the original album was. Whether going from those early tracks to the new additions, or back the other direction, the listener will begin to realize how painful of an album “… Was a Real Boy” really is from start to finish.

With more focus on the vocals, Bemis’ character turns from pitiable to desperate and pathetic. His lyrics provide enough detail to please a voyeuristic audience momentarily, but a normal listener will just shut off the CD player.

It might have been challenging for an audience to criticize this album if it was actually raising money for a good cause. But Bemis and the band have gone a completely different direction, changing the release to a reissue. Fans already criticize bands that reissue albums, saying they are greedy and too lazy to produce a new project. However, more than anything else, fans will be criticizing this reissue for its weak substance.