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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

That boy’s got “whoa”

Published: February 10, 2006
Section: Arts, Etc.

Imagine the kind of pressure you put on yourself for that big midterm paper. Let that feeling sit in your stomach for weeks, months, and years on end rather than the few measly hours you take to crank out half a dozen pages. Now, instead of a midterm paper, imagine that you force yourself to place those countless years pouring your entire heart, soul, and being into a singular set of musical compositions totaling slightly over a dozen tracks. If that isnt bad enough, add the stress from outsiders praising you as the next Dylan, massive drug abuse, emotional instability, and each drama-tinged moment of your life being carefully scripted into a musical produced by Hedwig and the Angry Inch writer Stephen Trask. Toss in a number of stints in an asylum, a massive consumer culture built towards hating the very genre you live and breathe, and all of this culminating by the time you graduate college. For those of us attending this fine university, those pressures combined with the academic stress would usually produce incredibly horrific and depressing consequences. Max Bemis has managed to hoist up the mountain of pressure on his shoulders with the most beautiful, sincere, and emotionally satisfying rock opera since The Whos Tommy.

Although technically not a new album, Say Anythings Is a Real Boy has been floating in the purgatory of rock greatness since its release in 2004 on Doghouse records. While garnering an underground following, Bemis and company were picked up by J records, known for producing mainstream pop friendly albums, and the band prepared to go to work on new material. Somewhere along the way, several band members dropped out of the picture, the group cancelled their first headlining tour due to Bemis cycling into another asylum visit, and recently Bemis has come out with the news that he suffers from manic-depression. So, with a tremendous back-story that most of todays popular musicians cant compete with, the suits at J records have decided to re-release one of emos greatest albums to date as a double album paired with a set of new recordings, Was a Real Boy.

Thankfully, Is a Real Boy still achieves the same beauty and depth as it did when it was released two years ago;

with the album's release to a wider audience, it may even be better as the words Bemis penned reverberate even more than it did when only a handful of lucky people knew about it. From the brash guitar licks at the opening of Belt right down to the emotionally charged rant against modern hipsters on Admit It!!!, theres no question about the pain Bemis put himself through to make the ideal perfect record. Its not only a shame, but also intriguing to think that Bemis wasnt satisfied with the album;

each song is wonderfully crafted and held together with Bemis unique vocals that penetrate the very core meaning in each and every word in the album. Every Man Has a Molly exemplifies Bemiss ingenious and wrought sense of humor that is missing from every stereotypical emo band today all while showcasing Bemis ingenious wordplay that most rappers cant comprehend. Songs like The Writhing South and Spidersong display pure-poeticism not seen by an emo act since the break up of Sunny Day Real Estate while managing to achieve a set of incredible pop tunes. Most of all, the cohesiveness of the album and its ability to achieve a wonderfully thorough storytelling flow are testaments to not only Bemis, but Trasks involvement in the project;

Trasks arrangements (although the idea to turn the album into a musical failed) bring the idea of opera to rock opera, as each song is filled with choral arrangements that embrace the musical ideals of emo and the most audacious musicals.

Its with Was a Real Boy that the beauty and uniqueness of Is a Real Boy can fully be appreciated. The companion piece isnt a bad album in the least respect, but paired and compared with the brilliance that Say Anythings first proper release, the disc falls slightly short. Acting more as a mix tape of songs from Bemis collection rather than the sequel one to the searing and eye opening story heard on the first disc, Was A Real Boy seeps into the consciousness more than providing an all-out assault. The album works more as a presentation of great things to come, a letter from Max to loyal fans that all wasnt lost when his band took the big leap to a major record label;

all the wonderful arrangements, thought provoking lyricism, and emo originality are still present. Wow, I Can Be Sexual Too says it all, and as one of the bands best songs on either album, it could fit in easily into the chaotic story on Is a Real Boy, yet it displays a certain change within the band as pop instrumentations fuel the song, leading one to wonder if the band may have changed despite the manic rants that Bemis displays on the bands website. Yet any indications of selling out quickly disappear as Bemis wittily barks When she described her underwear / I forgot all the rules my rabbi taught me in the old schul. Although the album doesnt flow as well as the previous disc, Was a Real Boy contains the same emotional honesty and irreverent musicianship that makes Say Anything an incredibly endearing band.

Shortly, the greater music world will hear one of the most honest, ingenious, and unique albums from one of the most passionate artists to hold a guitar. Maybe Bemis can put his fears to rest and forget about the pressure of having to be the next Dylan or Springsteen as the musician to represent the American musical bard. Music enthusiasts and purists can continually argue about it now and for generations to come, but with Is a Real Boy and Was a Real Boy, Bemis has achieved his place in the pantheon of great American musicians. The one thing that may forever be the tipping point to Bemis genius, aside from constructing an entirely personal musical nearly mocking the most dramatic moments in his life, is a certain sense of accessibility that neither of the previous musicians can claim to have. Sure, Dylan and Springsteen have their place among the greats and their music was influential, but when was the last time you went home after a long day, kicked back, and listened to Born to Run?