Max Bemis is all grown up. That's the main thought that comes to mind upon listening to Say Anything's new album, Hebrews.
Artist: Say Anything
Label: Equal Vision
Max Bemis is all grown up. That's the main thought that comes to mind upon listening to Say Anything's new album, Hebrews. There is a depth, maturity, and confidence in these songs, and if you know anything about Bemis's past struggles with social anxiety and drugs, you can see the leaps and bounds he has taken, both musically and lyrically, in the last few years.
Bemis has embraced marriage (to Sherri Dupree of Eisley) as well as fatherhood, and these life changes have no doubt led to the growth and maturity that is now coming out in his songcraft. No longer satisfied with being "emo," Bemis incorporates new sounds, including string sections that give the record a very orchestral feel. But if you are a fan of Say Anything's "emo" sound, don't fear the changes. He's just not content to rest on his laurels, so in addition to angsty punk riffs like "Kall Me Kubrick" and "Boyd," he also gives us whimsical pop songs like "John McClane" and "My Greatest Fear is Splendid." The title track is also an interesting concoction, combining emo and prog rock elements while adding some ethnic flourishes via violin as Bemis acknowledges his Jewish heritage along with his own shortcomings.
Bemis has always had a reputation for brutally honest, often self-deprecating lyrics, and that hasn't changed here, but he does seem to be speaking in a far more confident voice that he has in the past. Knowing about the Dupree sisters' spiritual leanings, I can't help but wonder how much of that faith Bemis has embraced. But while his words are in many ways straightforward, they are also in other ways very cryptic, so it's often difficult to read exactly where his personal faith is at this point. Wherever he is, it's obvious from some of these lyrics that while he has made progress in his struggles, he is still prone to failure, just like any one of us.
I think my favorite song here is "Lost My Touch." Over a simple and quiet electric piano melody, Bemis address his critics who don't care for his musical growth by giving them a how-to primer in his particular brand of songwriting:
Some say I've lost my touch at crafting Say Anything songs
I suppose I'll let you take my place on stage
It's not a difficult job to supplant, young one
And you're twice as insightful at half my age
Just string together lines of smug, self-loathing bile
Bear the chip, your shoulder holds the weight
Wield your ageless source, bludgeon ignorance
Clutch the awkward fifteen pounds you've grown to hate
The song, with both its lyrics and musical style, feels like a giant middle finger to those who write off older bands for not sounding exactly the same as they did when they started out. As someone who appreciates a band that can grow and change while still making interesting music, I can absolutely respect where Bemis is coming from. And the fact that he can do this without resorting to the raucous guitar riffs and profanity that dotted his earlier work shows just how mature he has become.
There's plenty of great stuff to listen to here, and thanks to Bemis's skill as a lyricist, plenty of food for thought as well. Go pick this one up.