Shit! Nothing makes sense! This giant hodgepodge of guests…these callow images of raucus kids incapacitating the elderly…a “genre” that stretches 27 songs from emotional pop-punk to pseudo-electro-pop and radio rock…I don’t get it! But then again, it’s Max Bemis, whose neurotic, narcissistic, and nihilistic creativity eclipses nearly everyone in popular music today. So I won’t think about it.
It would be easy to give the band a free pass after the success of their near-perfect …Is a Real Boy, a painfully realistic account of the hapless confusion and frenzied psycho-sexual frustrations of a growing boy. It probably would have also been easier to try and duplicate the comfortable fusion of pop-rock and punk proudly displayed and perfectly placed within the context of that album's songs. But where both the best and worst of In Defense of the Genre emerge, Say Anything continues to push themselves to the farthest depths of whatever genre this may be.
Disc 1 sets off a spitting, fury-fest of angst, as Bemis lashes out at an innocent girl’s corruptor on “Skinny, Mean Man,” creepily but heroically admitting "I’ve watched with my shovel in hand / I have faith in you child, from his nightmares I’ve plucked a plan / Where that prick is revealed to the world as a wicked man / This is a prayer from your biggest fan." “No Soul” tries for some kind of Hellogoodbye-like electronic beat, falling mostly short despite a strong guest appearance by Anna Waronker of That Dog. The almost loungey “That Is Why” witnesses Bemis acknowledging his vices and bipolar disposition, while the recently separated Adam Lazarra and Fred Mascherino lend their voices to “Surgically Removing the Tracking Device.” “Baby Girl, I’m a Blur” is one instance where a new direction (in this case, a synth dance number) simply doesn’t quite work out, occupying over four minutes of the first half of the record. The confrontational “Died a Jew” takes on an almost “Guilty of Being White” defensiveness, as Bemis asserts, "You say you hate the shade of my face for my father’s sharecrops / But my people were slaves before yours invented hip-hop / I apologize, but I’m in on the joke: another brother to scoff at the dancing patterns of white folk." Though “Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat” off the band’s 2004 …Is a Real Boy takes the converse perspective, “Died a Jew” will sadly probably be exploited by at least a few ignorant suburban white kids to back up their ethnocentricism. In stark contrast to the metaphor-heavy bulk of the album, Disc 1’s closer “Sorry, Dudes. My Bad.” is as vernacular as rock songs come, though an amusing spoken-word skit adds a level of whim that otherwise wouldn’t have been present.
Disc 2 doesn’t deviate far from the makeup of the first half, though there is much heavier incorporation of acoustic guitars even among the more punk-oriented songs, as the opener “Spay Me” reveals. The title track gives a slight vocal and lyrical nod to the band’s fan favorite “Admit It!!!,” as Bemis spatters, "So I spew a comet of verbal vomit, sacrilegious, of Christ or Islamic / It’s full of piss and they’ll never stop it / Come on and kill the kindly ones / The ever blinded ones / We stand and face you now. We will not run / Just you wait and see where your lemming line leads." It may be the album’s best, though the following "The Truth Is, You Should Lie With Me" in all its religio-sexual ambiguity is a close contender. Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio makes a helpful contribution to “About Falling,” which is really where the second half of the album hits its peak. Unlike the first half, the second seems front-loaded and peppered with filler and humdrum radio rock.
Another thing the album as a whole is missing is the energetic group shouts that backed up Bemis so masterfully on Real Boy. Even so, the 59-second “Hangover Song” adds a little fun, with Bemis’ graphic description of the symptom: "I screw my life up evermore as I puke my lungs out on the floor / I fuck my life up evermore as I shit my heart out on the floor."
In the most simple of terms, In Defense of the Genre is as good as anything by Say Anything should be. It’s thoughtful, provocative, confrontational, and sometimes awkward. Like the life of Max Bemis the album's story follows, there’s good and bad, but the experience has value in itself. Say Anything has done their part to defend the genre…now if only the rest of those cookie-cutter rock bands could do the same…