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Bloated album only for real Say Anything fans

Ryan Raffin | Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Concept albums are notoriously hit or miss. Double albums are infamous for their self-indulgent filler. So it’s pretty easy to be apprehensive about the new 27-song effort by L.A.’s Say Anything, titled “In Defense of the Genre.” The hype surrounding the album and the band is enormous. Frontman and band leader Max Bemis has been heralded as “the new Bob Dylan” as often as the New England Patriots get called “the best team in the NFL.”

For the most part, though, the pop-rock found on “In Defense of the Genre” is a half-decent listen. The lyrics are occasionally cringe-worthy, sometimes hilarious (in a good way) and always honest. It’s obvious they come from the heart. The overarching story of the lyrics pertains to Bemis’ struggles with love, drugs and his bipolar disorder. An alternate title could have been “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Max.” Say Anything might technically be a full band, but it’s really all about Bemis here.

Unfortunately, Bemis isn’t entirely successful in pulling his sonic experiments off. A myriad of guest singers changes things up a little, but often they just distract and annoy.

One of the first memorable songs is “That is Why,” a bizarre cabaret piece, which is not really good or bad, but just strange. It features some of the funniest lyrics on the record, such as: “Though once I was emoting/and Bono lyric quoting.”

“Baby Girl, I’m A Blur” is the danceable first single featuring an electronic beat, sure to make diehard fans cry foul.

With 27 songs, some of them are sure to be fairly horrid. “Hangover Song” on disc two is one of the album’s worst songs. (A sample of someone vomiting isn’t really that attractive, not to mention completely unnecessary.) Also unnecessary is the song “Died A Jew”, which has some lyrics so awful they shouldn’t even be dignified with an example here. As with most double albums, a lot of the songs could be cut out, or should have been.

Filler is a serious problem on this album, especially on the second disc. Aside from the couple of duds already mentioned, a lot of the songs just aren’t noteworthy. They are not necessarily bad or good, but completely forgettable. This CD would have been much better as a tight, less-bloated single disc.

The best songs are usually the angrier ones, such as “Skinny Mean Man,” “Surgically Removing the Tracking Device” and “People Like You Are Why People Like Me Exist.” There are some good quiet songs as well, such as “Spores” on the second disc.

If you have the patience to sift through the filler, there are some real gems here. Max Bemis is certainly a capable songwriter. He puts his entire self onto paper in a way that never seems forced or cheesy. While a solid chunk of the songs are not memorable, few are awful. The first half of the album is better than the second.

The album is definitely not for everyone, and the only people who will truly enjoy it are diehard Say Anything fans.

Contact Ryan Raffin at rraffin@nd.edu