Say Anything - I Don't Think It Is (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Say Anything

I Don't Think It Is (2016)

equal vision

In Say Anything’s heyday, the band had a regular lineup and a roster of A-list guests. But Say Anything is and has always been Max Bemis. Re-establishing that point may be the only reason 2014’s Hebrews exists. It rid Say Anything of all that was out of Bemis' control. It was bloated with synthesizers and guest features that sugar coated an otherwise bland album. This year, I Don’t Think It Is appeared out of nowhere and returned Say Anything to the basics: Max Bemis inside his own head, verbally spewing all the shit he’s thinking.

Bemis has gone out of his way, and his comfort zone, to make it clear recording this album was a collaborative process. While past members Cody Linder and the Turner brothers were major parts of the band, Bemis ran an autocracy. But what a difference an in-law makes. Mutemath’s drummer and Bemis’ brother-in-law Darren King adds a much needed jump to Say Anything, re-grounding Bemis in his roots. King’s drumming—sometimes too dominant for its own good—and his production naturally compliment Bemis' raw vocals and guitar. Be thankful for that. After a few albums of overly glossy production, I Don’t Think It Is takes a thick layer off the top and his voice shreds in a way not heard since …Is a Real Boy.

However, it’s no step back. The album is a result of constant evolution. I Don’t Think It Is exists as a reactionary piece to Hebrews. On opening track, “Give a Damn,” Bemis chants, “We don’t give a damn what they say!” But he does give a damn, to an extent at least. Bemis has always allowed himself considerable freedom. Over the span of his career, he's incorporated plenty of odd sounds and crazy structures. His grandiose nature is part of Say Anything’s DNA but works best as a backdrop to his insanely personal, relatable lyrics. Self-referential quips like “I’m 23 locked up in the asylum, listening too much to my own album” and “So destroy our first LP if you know what’s good for me” may specific to him, but they come from a place of empathy. It's the combination that Say Anything fans eat up.

Hebrews was a tough pill to swallow. A scene leader who once named his bloated double album In Defense of the Genre fully abandoned it. Now he’s returned. There is still plenty to scratch your head at, though. Apparently he met with Kanye West during the recording of the album and, while rap has played a major part in Bemis’ life, “Rum” shoves its influence down our throats. His Lil Wayne setup-punch line delivery is unnecessary: “I’m ready to be sliced up and served cheap—a deli.” Does it work? Not really and luckily doesn't last long.

Will Bemis and co. ever reach the heights they once did? Doubtful. They’re made for the underground. Putting this out for free on Youtube with zero announcement in a self-described Beyoncé moment, is a good way to gain back street cred. It’s unlikely to attract new Say Anything fans, but it may see some old ones return. I Don’t Think It Is earns the title of Say Anything’s best work in years. No matter. Max Bemis, “aging pop punk vocalist,” doesn’t give a damn what you say. But he’ll likely take it into consideration.