With each passing album that Say Anything pens, I tend to pensively dip a toe before diving right in. It’s nothing against the artists or the music, but more of a personal reason. Before I even press play, I can be certain that it will be something new. And before jumping into the deep end of my conclusions or opinions, testing the waters is much safer.
So, here we arrive at Hebrews. Putting all of the talking aside, not getting buried beneath repetitive mentions reminding “but there aren’t any guitars!,” Hebrews holds tight onto the grit and chaos a Say Anything fan craves.
Sure, the lack of guitars is a very aggressive decision, but creatively, it’s enjoyable.
Their absence is something that, while noticeable, isn’t entirely distracting. In their place, supportive orchestral pieces give a feeling, somehow, of both order and disarray. On paper, it’s odd, but it works when you hear it and, more often than not, isn’t noticed until pointed out (“Judas Decapitation,” “Six Six Six,” and the extensive introduction to the title track being prime examples).
Bemis’ self-deprecation is sharp and focused at countless moments here, but most is taken with some semblance of tongue-in-cheek thanks to his delivery and clever lyricism. His ability to write darkly while delivering lightly has always put Bemis in a select category, and Hebrews is no exception. “Six Six Six” is an introspective look at religious and personal relationships, calling himself “just a strung-out, overweight Jewish guy” after submitting “I belong in jail, but I lied my way to heaven, with a wife who hasn’t learned that I’m Satan yet.” Later, on the plucky and playful “My Biggest Fear is Splendid,” Keith Buckley helps Bemis inventory his long list of neuroses and anxieties while still sounding cheery.
“Lost My Touch” lies at a median between love and self-loathing. Set as a mild piano ballad, Bemis offers up his role to those who “are twice as insightful and half his age” and tell him he “has lost his touch writing Say Anything songs.” Despite knowing he’ll “one day be eclipsed,” he still gets a warm smile from it, knowing he “lived and bled for this.” With help from a Christie DuPree/Jeremy Bolm harmony, the song eases away with “I never say ‘washed up’ as I prefer to say ‘washed over,’ because you can drown in love of yesterdays.”
On the other side of the median, “The Shape of Love to Come” is a gloomy synthpop duet with wife Sherri DuPree. An indisputable standout, the pair’s chemistry rings through each second and note of the track, which happens to clock-in as the album’s lengthiest.
Now, I could go on for hours about the bits of Razia’s Shadow I hear throughout Hebrews or the comparisons I could make between the two. Firstly, there’s the departure from “typical” form – Razia as a musical, Hebrews as a guest-filled cabaret more or less. Second, the ambitious orchestration leads to a lack of guitars, with strings filling their vacant slot. And then there’s the cast: Bemis’ vocals are at-times reminiscent of his previous arachnidan role, while Chris Conley and Aaron Weiss (whose inclusion again leans more towards spoken narration rather than singing) each loan their own bit of vocals. But like I said, you probably shouldn’t get me started on that one.
Anyway, back on track. Bluntly, Hebrews is a leap of faith. Bemis has spent the better part of a decade progressing and maturing, and the songwriting and decision-making processes here are great indicators of where he is in regards to those. An album from a rookie songwriter taken in this direction would be marked as ambitious and wild, then perhaps given its dues and tucked away. Though, for someone with the status and reputation such as Max Bemis’, it’s [most of] those things and more. It’s, from my perspective, a message to fans, to critics, to himself and the world alike; he is aware of both who and where he is, he knew what he was capable of (or, maybe he didn’t), and he saw an opportunity for something exceptional. All of this is purely speculative, but one thing is unquestionable – the end result deserves our applause.
Check Out: “Six Six Six,” “The Shape of Love to Come,” “Judas Decapitation”
Release Date: June 10th, 2014
1. “John McClane” featuring Chris Conley and Matt Pryor
2. “Six Six Six” featuring Sherri DuPree-Bemis, Andy Hull and Jon Simmons
3. “Judas Decapitation” featuring Gareth and Kim Campesinos
4. “Kall Me Kubrick” featuring Chauntelle DuPree-D’Agostino
5. “My Greatest Fear Is Splendid” featuring Keith Buckley
6. “Hebrews” featuring Brian Sella
7. “Push” featuring Aaron Weiss
8. “The Shape of Love to Come” featuring Sherri DuPree-Bemis
9. “Boyd” featuring Sherri DuPree-Bemis
10. “A Look” featuring Stacy King and Bob Nanna
11. “Lost My Touch” featuring Christie DuPree and Jeremy Bolm
12. “Nibble Nibble” featuring Tom DeLonge and Sherri DuPree-Bemis
Written by Eric Riley