Sound — 9
Not one to settle for success, bipolar frontman Max Bemis has set the bar for for the band's follow-up release to the critically acclaimed ...Is A Real Boy at an intimidating height. In Defense Of The Genre is a double-disc concept album, and while it may not be as accessible as previous endeavours, it showcases a depth and creativity that deserves a few listens to fully appreciate. Firstly, sound-wise Say Anything should be commended for providing such a huge variety of music. The double-disc explores a multitude of styles and genres ranging from punk rock to show songs, screamo and ballads, generally executed skilfully by the band and supported by a cache of collaborators. Bemis has pulled out all the stops this time with everything from turntables to strings, and while there are a few occasions when his creativity seems somewhat stretched, this has generally more to do with the tracklisting than the quality of the songs. At first listen the album appears to be fairly random in structure, often taking abrupt turns in both subject matter and musical style. It is not until playing through the album a couple of times that these moves become familiar and the story becomes clear(er). The story itself, though perhaps not as direct and specific as Is A Real Boy, is an honest account of the beauty, dissonance, discovery and confusion of falling in (Disc 1) and out (Disc 2) of love. This theme carries across almost all of the songs on In Defense Of The Genre in some way, and marks relatively uncharted territory for Bemis. Still, the sheer length of the album comes with a steep listening curve, and for this reason is far less accessible than ...Is A Real Boy. It took me around two full listens to understand the album and fully appreciate it, so I would find it difficult to recommend to someone who was less interested in the band.
Lyrics — 8
Bemis has definitely outdone himself on the vocals in this offering. His vocal range is far greater than heard on ...Is A Real Boy, which would not have survived a double CD's worth of tracks. Highlights would have to include Goodbye Young Tutor, You've Now Outgrown Me, an acoustic ballad where Bemis' vocals waver softly as he confesses his emptiness and longing. The opening track Skinny, Mean Man is also particularly impressive, featuring the tag-team lyrical style seen in Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat spewn at a furious pace, and touching on what can only be referred to as the vocal equivalent of a guitar solo. The weakest tracks on the album are probably Died A Jew and Sorry Dudes, My Bad, which despite being lyrically clever (choice lyrics on DAJ include, You say you hate the shade of my face for my father's sharecrops, but my people were slaves before yours invented hip-hop) and close to Bemis' heart, are such corny songs that they betray the lyrical and musical maturity the band has otherwise displayed. As readers are no doubt aware, the album features a number of collaborations (23 in total) with artists of the music scene Bemis identifies himself with. Of note are Haylie Williams' (Paramore) ethereal verse on The Church Channel, as well as Pete Yorn's echoes in Skinny Mean Man and Gerard Way's (MCR) theatrical interlude in the title track. While these cameos are generally well-handled by the group, it should be noted that these appearances are far from duets as listeners may expect. Some are somewhat wasted or barely audible in a chorus of backing vocalists (You're The Wanker, If Anyone Is), and don't really warrant a purchase from the fans of said bands.
Overall Impression — 9
It must be noted that this album requires time and effort to truly appreciate; part of the reason I took a significant time to post this review was to fully grasp the subtleties of this piece (that and the daunting task of evaluating 2 discs in 800 words). The album comes to 27 tracks in full (logging in at approx. 89 minutes), so its unlikely to turn too many heads on a mainstream level. Herein lies the irony of In Defense Of The Genre, hile the huge length and refusal to play a set style will be commended as the band's greatest strength by fans, it is also what limits the bands accessibility to fans alone (and hence isolates rather than defends the genre). till, while it can be argued that In Defense Of The Genre would benefit from careful editing and a concise selection of standout tracks, Bemis has accomplished something epic that could not have possibly been done with a single disc and, love it or hate it, that's what the album comes down to.