“Eat… sleep, fuck, and flee… in four words, that’s me.”
These lines, which come courtesy of Say Anything songwriter/mad ringleader Max Bemis, have pretty much been lodged in my brain since the moment I heard them. They seem to perfectly capture the “generation millennium” attitude towards relationships, and life in general.
These lines are preceded by this missive: “Shit! Nothing makes sense, so I won’t think about it. I’ll go with the ignorance.” Insert the “eat, sleep, fuck and flee” line here, and wrap it up with: “I am full of indifference.” There is a stanza custom made for a generation of fuck-and-fleers, a spoiled generation raised with anything – information, communication, money, cell phones, video games, drugs and alcohol - they ever wanted at the tips of their fingers. I know, because I am one of them (born 1980, graduated high school in ’99, college in 2003).
I still remember the first time I heard Say Anything’s …Is A Real Boy, in my buddy Rob’s car. Listening to anything in the car with Rob is an exercise in patience that ends in futility. Rob constantly changes songs, and CDs (and later iPod tracks – one of the reasons I hate iPods, they make it too easy to NOT listen). If you make it completely through one whole tune, with no skipping ahead to a guitar solo, rewinding to hear some Iron Maiden-esque scream, or skipping ahead to a complete new song or album, you’d consider yourself lucky.
As such, with my first exposure to Say Anything coming in this way… all I heard was “fuck” and “shit” and a lot of bad words. Now, I can swear like a sailor, and sometimes (often?) do – but I’ve always held that music shouldn’t need to be vulgar to make a point. A little here and there for color is wonderful, but when every other word is something you’d get your mouth washed out with soap for saying, it’s a little out of hand. And, based on my lightening quick, skip ahead/behind, RVC introduction to Say Anything, I dismissed Max Bemis as just another whiny emo punk who needed a mouth full of Dawn liquid dish detergent.
And then I heard it again, a few years later. And I heard the line, “Eat… sleep, fuck and flee… in four words that’s me.” And I was hooked.
If I may be a little metaphysically critical of my writing here, one of the weaknesses that I have noticed in my latest writings on music has been a tendency to not explore as deeply the lyrics of the music I am reviewing. I thought of this last night, as I listened to the album I (sort of) reviewed yesterday. When I thought, “hey, I’d like to focus a review on lyrics; what would be a good album to review based on lyics?,” I quickly came up with Say Anything’s debut.
And the record begins with a song of rebellion.
Say Anything – which, at the point of this recording, is really just Bemis playing most everything, and a friend on drums – kick things off with the heavy, punky “Belt.” The song spans quite a few genres, musically speaking. But it’s the cathartic chorus that really jumps out and grabs you, with the shouted, “Hey, this is something I have to do for myself!” The song IS a song of rebellion. “I ignored the sheep and shepherds on the way,” Bemis snarls/speaks. His sarcastic, spitting delivery propels the song through inventive verses and chorus until the song’s coda, “what’s say you and all your friends step up to my friends in the alley tonight?”
The inventive music – an amalgam of so many styles, from punk to 50’s surf rock, continues to impress on “Woe,” but again the lyrics stand out. “All the words in my mouth, that the scene deemed unworthy of letting out, banded together to form a makeshift militia and burrowed bloodily through my tongue and my teeth.” You get the distinct impression that Max Bemis is one VERY damaged individual – picked on, picked at, angry and ready to explode.
One of the best things about the musical mood swings of Say Anything is the flat-out bad-ass rock that accompanies lyrics that beg you to sing along. If you’re not screaming along to every chorus and coda, then you’ve never felt down and out, left out, heart-broken, depressed of left behind. This is music to go to emotional and sexual war to.
You can pull great, dagger-like one liners from any song on this album. “The Writhing South” provides us this gem: “Across the room, across the room, I hope to watch you writhe again.” Bemis seems like the type of guy who wants to get laid, needs to get laid, gets laid, and hates the girls he has sex with. Hate isn’t even the best word. Loathe is more appropriate. But, in a refreshing twist from the “woe is me” self loathing of most modern “emo” bands, Bemis’ loathing is pointed at others – sexual conquests, sexual rejects, authority figures, fake scenesters, et al.
It’s also readily apparent, from the end of “The Writhing South” and into the mock ‘50’s beginning of “Alive with the Glory of Love,” that Bemis doesn’t take himself too seriously. In fact, it is so apparent that he does has a sense of humor that sometimes it is hard to separate what is a scathing attack on something or someone from a tongue-in-cheek joke. However, you might be having so much fun reveling in it all that you won’t give a fuck.
“Alive…” shows off the band’s considerable chops, and Bemis’ melodies really jump out. It should be noted that the guitar playing on this album is fucking incredible. The whole of the music, actually, is quite striking. If you’ve only heard of or seen Say Anything at your local Hot Topic or from trendy teens wearing trendy teen t-shirts, then you’ve missed out on the genius of Say Anything: that they managed to infect the modern music post-emo scene with music that only barely resembles the flavor-of-the-day nature of that scene. I guarantee that 90% of the bands that the Hot Topic kids worship can’t play half as good as Bemis, or write music as driving, catchy, and intoxicating as this.
My favorite song on the record has been, since I bought it and first heard this song, “Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat.” “The feline war” is on in this one, as Bemis spins a tale that is strange but so relatable. The protagonist is who he is – observer, toiling away. “These are my days, this is how they stay,” he says. “I watch this guy dude each night, same table,” Bemis rattles on. “He feeds me quotes, that lonely goat… I will not stop him when he rambles, I’m becoming one myself.” The twisted tale doesn’t just end there – between friends needing sex for healing and getting high, we get this scathing review of life: “As I look back at countless crossroads and the middle where I stay, right up the beaten path to boredom where the fakest fucks get laid by the faux-finest finds; It’s been that way and god damn you, how you stay with every scrummy crummy hour of the scrummy, crummy day.”
“The Futile” arrives and delivers our favorite observation on modern relationships, full of fucking and fleeing and whining and growing old and, of course, how futile it all is. “Spidersong” takes a predatory twist on the modern dating scene, making it seem like sex is so wanted and apparently so close, only to reveal that our hero is “too stoned to leave my bed. I’ll write this song to win your kiss but stay asleep instead.”
This album is nothing if not desperate. Song after song peals away layers of self-consciousness, fear of death, desire for lustful sex, fear of rejection, and more. It doesn’t approach this with as much self-loathing as you’d think, though, as I said earlier. At times, there’s an air of casual, “this is the way it is” acceptance. At other times, it’s fueled by anger and lust. The lyrics also share more with the lyrics of grunge-era rock and roll, filled with stories of struggle but of little to no surrender. And, when there is surrender, you get the sense it was done in order to hurt someone else.
Let me put it another way: …Is A Real Boy is the ultimate hate-fuck album.
Don’t believe me? Take one listen to “Every Man has a Molly.” It is fucking brilliant. It’s the sound of an ended relationship – all in your head, the way things get twisted, the way you hurt yourself thinking. “Molly Connolly just broke up with me over the revealing nature of the songs,” Bemis sings. “I can’t stop thinking about what she did wrong to me,” the song gleefully exclaims in the end. “I can’t figure out just what I did wrong. I’ll kill myself thinking about the things that you did to me.”
It is disturbed, but sometimes so gleefully disturbed that you don’t know whether to sing along and dance, or cry and shut it off. Thankfully, the music becomes so infectious that you forget that the lyrics of “Slowly, Through a Vector” are so graphic that they’re distasteful. You soon will also be singing “I watch them cut, I watch them touch.”
This is unrelenting, stream-of-conscious, not fit for the psychologist’s couch but fit for late night conversations with your fucked up friends, nuclear holocaust kind of warfare. The more you listen to the lyrics and embedded yourself in the music and the album as a whole, you realize that you invested not in a good time or good tunes, but in some kind of musical therapy. This is the type of album you don’t want your parents to find or hear. Your Christian friends would piss down their leg, curse you as Satan, and run away after hearing many of these songs. And me… I love it all. The violence, the scars, the loathing, the cathartic release.
“I Want to Know Your Plans” turns in one of the albums softest spots. It is an effecting ballad that reassures you that this mad genius Bemis has a heart, even if it so far has been twisted and black. This song is hopeful, and comes as a breath of fresh air, a moment’s respite right before Bemis loads up his last bullet and pulls the trigger.
In the album’s closing track, “Admit It!!!,” Bemis points the finger at his listeners. Where before he leads his minions through their pains and trials and tribulations, here he asks, “what do you have to say for yourself?” He spits barb after barb at the trendiness of the hipster culture, the emo culture, even his own band and “celebrated.” He takes aim at the geeks that bitch about jocks and make fun of so-called normal people. He unleashes on his primary audience, then rips out a manifesto, before cranking up a sarcastic, damning self-critique. He returns to his declaration of pride in his accomplishments, and leads us through more musical sweetness, and leaves us with one last missive. “When I’m dead, I’ll rest, I’ll rest!”
And like that, the album ends with a song of rebellion, with nothing but ashes left in its wake. It’s a damn fine way to go out, and one helluva ride along the way.