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Say Anything, ‘In Defense of the Genre’ (J/ Doghouse)

Mikael Wood // January 18, 2008

“There must be something wrong with me,” sings Max Bemis in “The Word You Wield,” one of 27 songs on the two-disc sophomore album by his Los Angeles-based band. As you might expect, the tune is about girl trouble: “Why am I surprised you’re giving up on me?” he wonders, as his ex slips into a cab and out of his life. But there’s something else wrong with 23-year-old Bemis, and it’s not the bipolar disorder he was hospitalized for in 2005 (which disrupted his ability to promote Say Anything’s debut, …Is a Real Boy): Dude cares deeply and openly about emo at a moment when many of his Hot Topic homies appear to be running from the scene at full speed.

As its title suggests, In Defense of the Genre boils down to a 90-minute demonstration of emo’s usefulness as a healthy outlet for young men’s frustrations; Bemis reminds the world that without his guitar, he might resort to more dangerous forms of escape. (Emotional blackmail? Hey, welcome to the boys’ club.) Yet, with its detours into slick synth pop (“Baby Girl, I’m a Blur”), weepy roots rock (“Retarded in Love”), and big Broadway music (“That Is Why”), the sprawling Genre proves that emo needn’t be boxed in by stylistic dogma. It’s Bemis’ pity party, and he’ll cry however he wants to.

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