Artist: Say Anything
Album: I Don’t Think It is
Record label: Equal Vision Records
Release date: February 5, 2016
Say Anything’s 7th full-length album dropped in surprising fashion earlier this month, and in reference to the album’s first track, you will ‘give a damn’ about it. One of the most commendable aspects of Say Anything is their willingness to grow and explore new sounds, or “challenge myself musically,” as lead singer Max Bemis describes it. Sure, the band’s rebellious message is present throughout the entire discography, and Bemis can still produce endless witticisms seemingly at random, but this album is different. However, it’s a very good kind of different. Fans of the band who were expecting another … Is a Real Boy will not find that in this 2016 release, but they will discover a familiar vibe from albums past.
That’s par for the course for Say Anything, a band that has added new and exciting elements to each album it produces. Constantly changing and evolving your sound does have its drawbacks, and 2014’s Hebrews is a prime example of that. Hebrews was certainly divisive among the band’s core following, and while it did a lot of things right, losing the guitars was a bit too jarring for some, especially when that instrument provides such a beautiful pairing with the often crude, yet always ingenious wordplay that exudes from every phrase Bemis articulates.
This is exactly why I Don’t Think It Is was such a refreshing release from the band. It’s unapologetic and in-your-face, showing a side of Say Anything that hasn’t truly been explored since their earlier days. It’s complex and full of the same twists and turns we’ve come to expect in the band’s song structure and composition, which one could argue is exactly what was missing on Say Anything’s last two albums. Specifically, it was noticeable absent in Anarchy, My Dear, which was a bit more conservative and simplistic in composition, rarely exploring areas outside of the band’s comfort zone. This is particularly problematic for a band that used to take so many wonderfully odd chances in its music, to the point where you could race up a song two to three minutes ahead and stumble upon something completely different, as if it were two songs in one. That was the exciting, thrilling aspect that was especially existent in the vastly underrated In Defense of the Genre, and now it’s finally back with a vengeance.
I Don’t Think It Is kicks off with “Give a Damn,” setting the tone for the kind of musical production you’re going to see throughout the album. It’s raw, purposefully distorted and mirrors the authenticity and realness that the band has been conveying through its lead singer’s audacious lyrics for more than a decade.
The album truly comes into its own towards the middle, beginning with “The Bret Easton Ellis School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” a stripped-down and beautifully constructed song that the name could not possibly prepare you for. The album then picks up the pace during the seven-plus minute “Attaboy,” which references both Batman and Freudian Jackboots before launching a visceral attack through pounding guitars and Bemis’ tumultuous screams. Skip to the 3:00 minute mark and it does a complete 180°, slowing down into a hauntingly beautiful vocal experience. This is the Say Anything we know and love.
The album ends with “Varicose Visage,” a song that never could have lived on a concept album like Anarchy, My Dear. Without Bemis’ recognizable screams carrying you through the tune, you might have even thought it was a more impressively phrased single from the band Sleigh Bells.
“Visage” is the perfect closer for I Don’t Think It Is. It’s the kind of song that you can instantly envision Say Anything playing live while thousands of screaming fans howl along to the truculent and forceful nature of the song. Diehard fans of the band will likely welcome the album with open arms, embracing the return of a sound and structure that is not only more familiar, but more grown up as well.
LIKEYOUSAID Critic Score: 8.0/10
Album review by Scott Zaleski. Follow Scott on Twitter @Scott0nTheRocks