Pushing aesthetical standards to their ultimate boundaries can either result in an outstanding record or an undistinguished one. Guest-studded (sixteen guests, to be precise) and experimental (no guitars), Say Anything’s sixth studio album entitled Hebrews is subject to a large pool of different perspectives and inevitably, different opinions. Due out on the 10th of June, the fairest approach to appreciating an ambitious and unconventional record such as this one is to temporarily detach yourself from the band’s older material like …Is A Real Boy and In Defense of the Genre.
Max Bemis (lead singer) is known for his unique vocals and equally unique lyrics, and both are thankfully stapled onto anything they will ever put out. The “no guitars” concept adds onto the “theatrical approach” as Bemis describes it. It is something new and definitely worth discussing thoroughly. Not now, though. One thing worth noting is that despite the lack of guitars, the band managed to make other instruments sound extremely similar to guitars, almost defeating their musical experiment’s purpose at times.
Quite the lackadaisical opening, introductory track “John Mcclane” begins with very little instrumentation and a very little preview of the anticipated chaos about to ensue. Redeeming the initial passiveness, this song features Chris Conley (Saves the Day) and Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids/Reggie and the Full Effect). Despite the somewhat dull introduction, however, let it be known that this record is nowhere near mediocre.
Showcasing his talent as a lyricist, Bemis guarantees fans that he has not “lost his touch” when it comes to maintaining his rapport with tongue-twisting words fans would love to sing along to at shows. “Judas Decapitation” which features Gareth and Kim Capesinos, is filled with the band’s infamous rap-like verses and also features a catchy “the band plays while the ship goes down” refrain. Addressing disempowerment and making references to …Is A Real Boy with the lyrics: “Never change the band, never ever be a dot dot dot, Real Man” was a nice little inclusion.
Themes of Judaism and Christianity are present on the entire record (yelling “swastika” repeatedly on “Kall Me Kubrick”); more so in the title track, “Hebrews” featuring Brian Sella (The Front Bottoms). Here we find Bemis reaching back into his roots and speaking a little Hebrew, making multiple biblical references, again adding more depth to the “something new” aspect of this record. “Push” is a potential favorite, as it incorporates more elements of rock and roll that the band intentionally abandoned to take a more whimsical route.
“The Shape of Love To Come” and “Boyd” are very special as they both feature Bemis’ wife, Sherri and because they are both very reflective of their sentiments towards their daughter, Lucy. “Boyd” is probably the heaviest, most familiar-sounding track, despite the lack of guitars. It’s really surprising what an orchestration of strings, keys, and percussion can produce. “Lost My Touch” featuring Stacy King and Bob Nanna (Braid/Hey Mercedes) was stripped down, allowing the audience to focus on the lyrics about Bemis’ thoughts for their fans and their critics. Probably the least frantic and most lyrically generous, this track was an incredible component that definitely stood out. Closing this disheveled journey off, “Nibble Nibble” featuring Tom Delonge (Blink-182) and Sherri Dupree-Bemis again was a stable choice, as it encapsulated the successes rather than the faults of all the new concepts in Hebrews. This closing track also assures fans that Say Anything’s unique sound has not left them.
Condensing an opinion was extremely difficult as there was so much to be said about all the things that went on. This record was packed with ambition and a lot of intense emotions both lyrically and instrumentally. Taking guitars away from a rock record is like taking the Ferris wheel out of a carnival. Did this succeed as an experimental record? Definitely. There’s a ton of other attractions you can enjoy at a carnival. Did it live up to what the fans wanted from the band? It’s really up to how you absorb this record as an individual. Other kids might enjoy the Carousel or the arcade games, but there are always the kids who just really wanted the Ferris wheel.
(By Dana Reandelar)