January 21, 2019 Say Anything – Oliver Appropriate (Album Review)
We have encountered our tragic anti-hero previously, but now he gets a name and an ending to his tale of woeful confusion and modern struggle. A concept album that picks up where …Is a Real Boy left off, Oliver Appropriate is the latest and potentially final release from Emo titans Say Anything. It arrives on Friday, January 25, 2019, via Dine Alone Records.
Let’s face it, Say Anything’s sophomore release, 2004’s seminal …Is a Real Boy, is invariably intertwined with all things Emo. It defined the band and inspired a legion of fans, some of whom would go on to become musicians themselves. Formed in 2000, the Los Angeles group — fronted by the outspoken, multi-talented, Multi-Instrumentalist Max Bemis — released their debut, Baseball: An Album by Say Anything, in 2001, hit it big three years later, and then went on to release five more full-lengths over the next twelve years. From 2007’s In Defense of the Genre to 2016’s I Don’t Think It Is, the band has become known for continuously pouring their hearts into their music, soldiering onward despite personal and professional lows (lineup changes, man).
Eighth studio offering Oliver Appropriate is a sequel, of sorts, to …Is a Real Boy, where we pick up with our boy, Oliver, living in Brooklyn, strung out and alone, grappling with his own sexuality and drug use. It is not a pretty story and it ends in tragedy, yet there’s a triumph in there, as well. Sadly for fans, the album signals the end of Say Anything — for now, anyway. While the future is open wide and we may meet Bemis again, Oliver Appropriate is the full circle send-off for a band that has always laid their heart on the line in the name of their craft. It is the story of a boy and it is the end of a boy.
Bemis is self-touting the album as his most inclusive to date, one that looks beyond excessive use of pronouns to make its love stories, well, all-inclusive — because love is love. To bring this fully-modern epic to life, he enlisted the help of fellow musician and friend Karl Kuehn of Museum Mouth, who helped to inspire the collection and authored the track “Your Father.” Similarly, Bemis’ wife Sherri DuPree-Bemis — a talented musician well-known for her own band, Eisley — offers her muse and talents to the album, as well.
This latest portion of Oliver’s journey begins with “The Band Fuel,” which, don’t hemorrhage, is actually not about the band Fuel. Here, our anti-hero awakens from the “champagne dream” of his band’s success. Strung out in New York City, clinging to the vestiges of what could have been and horrified to face what is. Accompanied by acoustic guitar as the track initially begins, Bemis paints the melancholic, bittersweet and reflective portrait of a man spiraling dangerously downward. When the entire band eventually kicks in, the urgency seems to thicken the poetic fray, setting the stage for an album that will not give you good, glittery feels. Though, on its sonic surface, second track, the pill-sniffin’, insomniac confessional “Daze,” actually is quite the toe-tapper!
Our confessed pill nerd continues to detail his struggles in the ironically catchy, clap-along ode “Pink Snot.” Sobriety is seemingly frowned upon here, as our narrator devolves into the throes of his own addictions. The end result is an earworm that, removed from the context of the story-line, certainly paints a piss poor picture. “Greased” is its counterpart, the turning point and a pseudo-psychedelic one. Bemis’ vocals seem to emanate from the stony abyss, accompanied by delicate acoustic guitar as his Oliver begins to explore his sexuality and question the ideals spoon-fed straight into his heart.
A troubled exclamation opens “Ew Jersy,” a semi-autobiographical Punk Rock ballad that shows the sense of humor behind the emotional mayhem that is Say Anything. And yet it adds more material to Oliver’s story: he the former rocker who has been forever pigeon-holed and is back from a “fake hiatus.” Tonight, drunk with friends, our narrator will kiss boys and maybe bed a girl. This paves the way for “Mouth Breather,” like a twinkling daydream of sound, Oliver falls head over heels for fresh meat. The song goes for a more whimsical, Pop-sprinkled vibe while leaking pheromones, musing about the boy candy that is Karl.
The quick gut punch of “When I’m Acid” takes a downward spiral into self-mockery. Struggling with his sexuality and those persistent chemicals, Oliver’s mind is a maelstrom. But the self-doubt makes way for “Captive Audience,” a drunken stumble through the streets of Bushwick that is anchored by piano. Here, our narrator becomes a bard in Karl’s arms, the boy who will make him question everything he knows. That’s where the lyrical seriousness of “Your Father” comes in, contrasted perfectly by its upbeat sonics — like a warm embrace that’s actually a slap across the face. It is a passionate moment that is destined to never repeat itself.
Super catchy sing-along “Send You Off,” an obvious choice for a single, sees one “slick son of a bitch” nodding his head to the topic of modern sexuality. In Oliver’s world, it’s the realization that he has just shared a passionate evening in the arms of another man and, for a myriad of reasons, that joy is likely to never repeat itself. In fact, on the wings of this heart-wrenching realization, “Fired” adds a raw slap. Acoustic anchors the track as Bemis lays his heart on the line to perfectly encapsulate the emotional vulnerability of Oliver, who has just been fired at his mediocre job.
“It’s a Process” is mixed loud to demand your attention, much like our desperate narrator, who, standing on his lover’s doorstep, has hit rock-bottom. Clutching a gun, Oliver is demanding the attention of a man whose heart has moved on. Appropriately, “The Hardest” goes deep and guts the listener as Oliver crosses the threshold into murderous psychopathy. A man who has lost literally everything, he can no longer bear being alone. It’s certainly an unhealthy relationship and a pathetic motive for ending someone’s life, but Oliver, he’s never been a ‘normal’ boy.
His tragic story comes to its denouement with the delicate ballad “Sediment.” Here, the emotional pain of Oliver’s struggles and his actions culminates in the end of our narrator’s life as he sinks back into the ether. Despite the completely unhealthy dynamic at play here, sonically, there’s a kind of victorious triumph to “Sediment,” one that ends the album strong and proud, guitars raised as the band waves goodbye to the crowd and ends Oliver’s trevails once and for all. Oliver and Say Anything have come full circle together, the death of one an allegory for the indefinite hiatus of the other.
There’s a darkly psychological poetry to the lyrics throughout Oliver Appropriate that fans have come to expect from Say Anything. The rawness of Bemis’ often gruff vocals is present throughout, emoting songs that are short and straight to the point, with a wonderfully artistic minimalism. Which, let’s face it, in today’s overproduced world of music is refreshing.
Our 14-track journey is an experiment, one that looks to make a sociopath a sympathetic hero. Say what you like about the concept, but it’s a concept that toys with the listener’s emotions and it’s done well — to prove a point. There’s a vulnerability to the arrangements, one that sees Bemis weaving oft semi-autobiographical material throughout the tale of his fictitious narrator, dancing dangerously close to reality while exploring exaggerated avenues that his story might have taken. It’s love, it’s hate, it’s tragedy condensed into the story of one tormented boy. Ready to send Say Anything off with much love and respect, Cryptic Rock give Oliver Appropriate 5 of 5 stars.