Say Anything - Hebrews (Album Review)

You've heard the reasons why the Say Anything albums after Is A Real Boy have been bad. Max is happy now, he's passed the moments in life that made his music good, getting clean ruined his lyrics, etc.. You've heard In Defense Of The Genre was too long and had an albums worth of great songs but as a double album it felt uneven, the self-titled album felt too shallow and underwhelming. Anarchy My Dear was viewed as underwhelming and lacking energy. I've also heard a ton of people come to Say Anything's and more importantly Max Bemis' defense saying people change, musical interests change, and some of the music has been pretty good. Heck even I'd defend the last two or three Say Anything albums to some degree. All of them have had a few songs I've enjoyed. I also admit anything post Is A Real Boy has been slightly disappointing. It's rough for an artist when fans expect greatness each and every time. I'm sure it's taxing. The thing is once you've given it to people and they know you're capable of it anything less than perfection is a disappointment. I mean look at Peyton and the Broncos performance in the Super Bowl and you can easily tell no one forgives you if you're supposed to be great and you come up short time and time again.

Say Anything's new album is really more of a Max Bemis solo album. Drummer Coby departed the band leaving Max Bemis as the sole official member to record on the new album Hebrews. Max alone seems to be a man on a mission with this album. He really seems like he's trying to make something unique and interesting. I can't tell if the lack of Coby's presence changed the outcome but this is a very different type of Say Anything album. It also looks like the longtime live band is being traded in for new personnel as well for upcoming touring. That doesn't matter all that much because it doesn't change the songwriting for the album. It’s just interesting to note when I think about how much of a solo project this album feels like and this band feels like these days.

I can't help but compare Hebrews to The Ataris poorly received Welcome The Night. (I should note I really enjoy Welcome The Night). Not in comparing the sound of those albums, but more so because both albums sound like they came from different projects than they are associated with and are a different type of thing all together. There are no guitars featured on this one. A jumble of programming and odd instruments are attempted to be used to create the rock atmosphere instead. Title track "Hebrews" sounds like some type of pre-production demo before the real instruments are added. Most of the songs follow suite in feeling unfinished, too bloated with various instruments, or weirdly produced and mixed. The album just lacks something here or there or seems too confusing to truly enjoy it at times. The whole thing is a head scratching process of whether you are on board or not with the direction of the album. While it also has the ability to keep you listening long enough to draw you in with a handful of decent songs, some ideas are better left on the cutting room floor, for solo projects, or other random projects. This album definitely has those moments. It doesn't fall flat on its face. It has some good moments as well.

The first song on the album is an okay song. Chris Connley and Matt Pryor add some small parts and help the song. It's one of the more enjoyable songs on the album. The song "Boyd" sounds so jumbled and hectic that it's almost unlistenable. It sounds way too sped up and Bemis just sounds buried in a barrage of sounds. "A Look" sounds a little better. Again the instruments just have too much of a jumbled feel in parts of the song. I did think it was one of the better songs on the album and worked better for the sound this album is going for. Stacy King's part on the song was pretty cool. "Lost My Touch" is another song I thought was okay. I notice some of the slower songs just sound better for the vibe and technique used on this album. The albums last song "Nibble, Nibble" is a song that sounds pretty cool. The beat, in some places, wasn't my favorite, but it's a song I liked on the album. The album starts and ends fairly strong. It gets lost in the middle in a few places.

This album, like In Defense Of The Genre, has a laundry list of guest features. Some notable ones are Tom Delonge, Chris Connley, Matt Pryor, Jeremy Bolm, Stacy King, Andy Hull, and various others. Sherri Dupree-Bemis has the largest role as a guest singer as she appears on quite a few songs. Some of the guest work is better than others. If anything they add an interest and excitement factor to the album. I was instantly excited to hear how Tom Delonge would sound on a Say Anything song. The answer is that it's neat. I'm not sure it works perfectly but it's definitely exciting just to hear how he sounds on the track. Overall the idea to return to a ton of guests makes this, like In Defense Of The Genre, one of those albums where fans of other bands can step in and check out Say Anything which is a cool thing.
There is just no denying it. I've enjoyed a ton of Say Anything material. Is A Real Boy is a fantastic album. I enjoyed In Defense Of The Genre a lot. I found some okay stuff and some underwhelming stuff on the following two albums. Hebrews, to me, falls into the category of slightly underwhelming. I don't find it as a whole all that interesting or that innovative. I don't like the absence of guitars. That being said, if the idea had been a homerun I wouldn't have minded it. Instead it feels hit and miss at times. The type of instrumentation used in some places makes the songs feel jumbled and too busy. I flat out just don't like some of the songs. Bemis' vocals seem to be a shiny spot on this album and is really its saving grace. If one thing will help this grow on me over time it will be his vocal performance, which honestly is pretty good. Lyrically it's okay, but like most of the releases after Is A Real Boy it isn’t as good as Is A Real Boy or as focused. The lyrics don't seem all that interesting or insightful to me. At this point some of the subject matter just feels bland and rehashed. This album feels like an artist stretching or just flat out trying too hard at times. It feels forced and like Bemis is a quarterback down three touchdowns in the fourth quarter with only four minutes left at times. That's not to say the album doesn't have some stuff I enjoy and I definitely don't hate it. I think there are a handful of pretty good songs, but nothing on this album sticks out to me as the best Say Anything has ever done. On those choice moments when Max hits his stride and the song comes together you can't help but root for Say Anything and appreciate Max Bemis as a songwriter. During those moments he feels like a seasoned quarterback throwing touchdown passes like he did in his prime.

I hope at this point you aren't shaking your fist in anger because you think I've written a negative review for this album. I'm definitely not trying to go to negative on this album, because I do enjoy some of it and I enjoy all of Say Anything's discography to a degree. It has its moments like most Say Anything albums do. It doesn't reach that goal of masterpiece which I constantly want from Say Anything. It really doesn't even contend with Bemis’ best work. I will say this album is better as a whole than the sum of its parts. I tend to have lofty expectations for Say Anything because as a listener I know what Max Bemis is capable of doing. It just fell short of what I as a listener wanted. I do commend Bemis for trying something different and when it works it's really neat. I'm also not claiming I won't listen and enjoy this album to some degree. Just know going into this you shouldn't expect it to hit you on the same level as Is A Real Boy. You also shouldn't expect it to be as successful as you would like with what Bemis is trying to do with this album. At this point a bunch of listeners always say don't compare everything to Is A Real Boy, but come on that's just the way it is. Every artist has a body of work and anything added is compared to what came before it. The album definitely has its moments, but ultimately they just feel like moments. To continue the football analogy this album is maybe first or second round of the playoffs for me and Is A Real Boy is still the Super Bowl winner. That means it's definitely playoff worthy, but it's missing a few pieces to make it a 100% success.

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