As one of pop-punk’s most beloved bands, Say Anything rose to fame during the peak of the scene’s early-mid 2000’s success. They weren’t merely the beneficiaries of a booming genre, however; the band helped define what pop-punk meant, and they continue to influence up-and-coming artists spanning multiple genres today. Their work ranges from silly/borderline offensive to earnest and heartfelt, but for the most part Say Anything are just a damned happy band. At their best, they’ve featured intelligent, addictive, irony-filled lyrics with diverse, catchy melodies that leave nary a space for filler. Say Anything were – and some may argue still are – a staple of the pop-punk genre that will always resonate with fans. As a result, our staff felt compelled to rank their top ten songs in a definitive list. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments below – or just jam the spotify playlist and sing along at the top of your lungs. Admit it (!!!), you know you want to.
As of this writing I am the last (or among the last) to submit my blurb for our project, despite a weekend of long train rides and a relatively slow Monday. “An Insult to the Dead” is a treatise on one of the most sobering human experiences for those of us similarly entrenched in middle class privilege and normalized narcisissism: that moment of clarity when there are no more excuses, no more delusions, and it is time to own up to your shortcomings. Ignore all of the other blurbs that may suggest otherwise- this is actually Bemis’ best song, lyrically, and what is special about it is that it’s not one where he is manic or acerbic or depressed (like the best of old Say Anything) or smitten and celebratory (like what some people may pluck out of newer Say Anything). This is a work of timeless reflection and it has aged remarkably well. –theacademy
“Cemetery” has one of the best bridges by a band that generally writes the best bridges in popular music. For years I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about how every single song on Is a Real Boy… has a killer bridge. The rest of Say Anything’s discog has some strong bridges as well, particularly “Cemetery.” And by bridge, I, of course, mean the “falling asleep at the wheel” portion of the track. Like many Say Anything tracks, “Cemetery’s” bridge is the best part of the song. Something about how Bemis’ bridges either dismantle or open up a track, and the fact that the bridge is not repeated in the song structure – it’s powerful in the sense that it feels like the connective tissue of the song. A bridge is only as good as the whole song, and “Cemetery” is a worthy sing song emo anthem that was surely written while Max Bemis was crying. –Trebor.
Listen to “Cemetery”:
Back when I was first getting into Say Anything, I thought that …Is a Real Boy had two weak songs: “Slowly, Through a Vector” and “Chia-Like, I Shall Grow”. I couldn’t say exactly when it happened, but slowly, they both became personal favorites, and I would say now that only “Belt” is superior to this song. It is funny how songs can sometimes betray their original meanings. “Chia-Like” was written about how we sometimes hate the people around us who have their shit together because we feel inferior to them. But, rather than being as acerbic as that descriptor makes it out to be, the song is among the most affirming and joyous things that Bemis has ever written. The musically expansive outro finds Bemis giving the vocal performance of a lifetime, singing “I shall grow and grow” again and again. It sounds so inspiring to me, even though the line is intended to mean that Bemis’s hate will keep growing. Throughout my life, whether I’ve made incremental changes or sudden departures, I can hear him singing that line in my head. Freed from its bitter verses, “Chia-Like, I Shall Grow” becomes a paean. I hope that I never stop hearing it. I hope that I never stop changing. –Channing Freeman
“Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat” is our first real breath on …Is a Real Boy. Less of your typical ballad, which will come in later with “I Want to Know Your Plans”, “Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat” is a spacey and atmospheric song with Bemis’ virtuoso musicianship front-and-centre on guitar and wonky synths. In the labyrinthine meta-maze of this album, “…Cat” is about as close as we get to a straightforward look inside the man’s mind. Bemis’ deadbeat cousin Greg, “snug in the cushion of his cackling” to “forget his looming doubts” acts as a cautionary tale, the kind of person Bemis could easily see himself becoming if the music industry takes his belt or the orgy of critics causes him to abandon his dream. It’s a parade of misfits and freaks in this song, a neighbour’s kid playing with a shotgun and a crazy guy rambling in a restaurant, but there’s as much empathy in the narrative voice as there is judgement – “I will not stop him when he rambles, I’m becoming one myself”. –Rowan
As a very, very passive listener of Say Anything, “Ahhh…Men,” to me, represents a microcosm of all the band’s confusingly endearing traits. Questionably written, vapid lines like “with a record like mine give up or go gay” ring heavy-handed and goofy, while still brazenly honest in its obvious self-deprecation. Even with such a tongue-in-cheek delivery, Say Anything manage to make a convincing and heartfelt anthem; an expertly building chorus anchors the latter half, requiring a sing-along chant even when Max Bemis’ lyrics seem to invoke a mid-aughts scene kid with “Can I lie with you in your grave?” But for all of this, “Ahhh…Men” is dumb, beautiful, fun, and all too jokey in its seriousness. So basically the perfect Say Anything song. –Xenophanes
The things that I have found so irritating about Say Anything’s last several albums – basically, everything about them – once were used to great effect in “Admit It!!!”, years before Max Bemis would try to cash its good will in with “Admit It Again”. It is not my favorite Say Anything song, but it does seem to be the quintessential Say Anything song, the track that encompasses everything that Bemis was trying to do with …Is a Real Boy and everything that he has largely failed to do since. It is saved from puerile preachiness by its carefully crafted, hyper-specific references, and it is saved from meanness by Bemis’s willingness – eagerness, even – to turn his critical eye on himself.
For a long time, I found its sincerity disconcerting, and I hesitated to listen to it. But I think I was letting Say Anything’s later albums muddy the quality of the song, which now seems to me as pure a track as anything that has ever come out of rock music. “When I’m dead,” Bemis sings, “I’ll rest, lay still.” No half-baked rehash could ever dilute the meaning and power of those words, nor could any Say Anything fan ever forget them. –Channing Freeman
Most of what makes Say Anything great is the way Max Bemis delivers his lyrics. The lyrics themselves are often ridiculous and sort of dumb, but the way they flow and the phonetic aesthetic of the words make for the kind of zingers one could print on an edgy Hot Topic t-shirt – in a good way! “Do Better” is the prime example of the said phenomenon, containing an awful Debra Messing/Will and Grace joke sandwiched into lyrics about believing in an afterlife; it’s all a bunch of nonsense, but there’s a sort of poetry to it. Lines like “Guiding Satan’s steady hand / forcing Beatles to disband / It’s ego freaks and drama queens / the young at heart know what I mean”, and “It’s disgusting how little that you try / the existential equivalent of pink eye” sound really cool as long as you don’t think about it at all.
It helps that the production of Say Anything’s self-titled album is exemplary. The sound of the clap/snare and the record noise on the kick drum hits, and the strings, and all the little sounds and tones blend perfectly with Max Bemis’ commanding voice. The guitar solo on the back end of the track and the way it sounds all chopped and screwed stands as one of the most innovative solos in recent memory. Recording almost an entire pop-punk song with string instruments still boggles my mind, there isn’t a single guitar note played until 2:18 into the track and it totally works even though it shouldn’t. I used to think Say Anything is too squeaky clean and poppy, but it broke me down at a certain point and I now consider the best pop record of the oughts, and “Do Better” is the shining example of the record’s greatness. –Trebor.
“Belt”—and therefore Say Anything’s masterwork, …Is a Real Boy—begins with an oblique, funny example of Say Anything’s overwhelming attention to detail. I just love the moment where Max Bemis’ interlocutor, hearing Bemis’ plans for a spoken-word intro to the album, interrupts him and then pulls back: “Good, you don’t have to write it…Oh yeah, let me hear it.” This little faltering exchange renders Say Anything’s self-touted “rebellion” a tiny bit farcical, but thereby real, because Bemis knows, or instantiates as a truth, that funniness makes the real resonate between us all. And so the album begins: rebellion is scaled to a register of vocal snarls, thick power chords, vocab words like “gendarme,” and of course a couple of “woah-oh-oh”s (see: #2). “Belt,” even more than the other knotty novelistic tracks included on here, has a million things going on. The coup is how all these ideas come together, how tiny details coagulate into a delectable organism. This thing is like goddamn “Dancing Queen,” oozing with so much pleasure on the artist’s behalf that you have to give in and sing along, get together, and maybe even, yes, dance. So what say you? –robertsona
“Woe”, in particular among the earlier Say Anything catalogue, is a litmus test: upon completion, you probably have a solid love/hate estimate for their music. It’s not as ostensibly ambitious in composition as our No. 1 pick, but it spotlights Max Bemis’ strengths and weaknesses in earnest. The crooked-grin grandiosity, pathetic (and honestly so) grip on sexuality, knack for making cumbersome syllables somehow work to catchy effect, overwhelming contempt, vocals that work better than they should, and a trademark uncomfortable admission that somehow also lends itself to a sense of comfort. I’m not sure there’s a song on … Is a Real Boy that captures the album’s essence as effectively as “Woe”. Amidst the rock opera that is the surrounding album, the story-within-a-story here of artistic rejection to body dissociation and panged optimism is gut-wrenching in its meld of hope and despair. Woe-oh-oh-ohhhh. –JohnnyOnTheSpot
For all the praise given to Max Bemis’s early Say Anything albums, there is one area where he remains underappreciated: he’s really good at writing love songs. “I Want to Know Your Plans” is an obvious example, but “Shiksa (Girlfriend)”, “Crush’d”, and “Cemetery” all give it a run for its money. But none can compare to “Alive with the Glory of Love”. What sets the song apart? What saves it from being generic? The answer to both questions is in the lurid details – the work camps, the boot-stomped meadows, Treblinka – that describe love in a time of horror. Bemis wrote the song about his grandparents – both Holocaust survivors – and that real-life grounding elevates the song even as apocalyptic mentions of wormwood abound. The upbeat bounciness of the music would belie the darkness underneath in a lesser song, but here it serves to highlight it, with a manic Bemis shouting, “Okay, speed it up, go!” in one of the all-time great Say Anything bridges. And on and on. I could talk forever about the song’s merits, yet nothing would be as effective as simply stating the truth: it is the greatest love song ever written. –Channing Freeman
Figure A: Say Anything Album Ratings: Per Album, By Year:
It’s no surprise that …Is a Real Boy tops this chart. Every year’s average rating for that album has been above a 4.0, oddly enough with 2018 being the exception. It’s interesting to follow the trajectory of each album into the present year, because it seems that the band as a whole is on a downward slope as far ratings go – Is a Real Boy, the self-titled album, and Baseball all took a sharp nosedive at the end of the graph. Even weirder is that Anarchy, My Dear – typically renowned as their worst record – saw a slight uptick in the ratings it received in 2018. There’s probably a good explanation for this…maybe it’s that pop-punk is ever in decline, or perhaps it’s merely an incomplete sample set considering that we’re not done collecting user ratings for this year. In Defense of the Genre has steadily been the Robin of the discography to Real Boy‘s Batman, riding the #2 line consistently. Say Anything and Hebrews tend to occupy the middle, amid some spikes and dips over the years. The most striking takeaway might be the disparity between Say Anything’s best release and their worst – …Is A Real Boy so consistently garners annual average ratings at or above the Excellent (4.0) mark, whereas the reviled Anarchy, My Dear has never gone much above Average (2.5), at times even threatening to descend below the Poor (2.0) mark. For an even more in-depth look, see the below chart (Figure B) for each album’s “Trve Fan Rating.” This is basically what each album’s mean rating would be if you were to go exclusively by only those who have rated every LP in the band’s discography.
Figure B: Trve Fan Ratings:
|Say Anything||…Is a Real Boy||4.642||4.442||1|
|Say Anything||In Defense of the Genre||4.093||3.927||2|
|Say Anything||Say Anything||3.902||3.868||3|
|Say Anything||I Don’t Think It Is||2.838||2.793||6|
|Say Anything||Anarchy, My Dear||2.411||2.217||7|
Please take this playlist as a token of love – glorious love, of course – from the Sputnik Staff to you. Add it to your own Spotify account, share it on social media (shameless self-plug), blast it in your car with the windows down, or re-order it if you think that you can do better (whoa oh oh). But either way, it’s here for you to enjoy.