By Lane Moore, Reviews Editor
[Dine Alone; 2019]
Key tracks: “Your Father”, “It’s a Process”, “Sediment”
Punk rock’s favorite playwrights have returned with Oliver Appropriate, Say Anything’s final album (probably?) and a sequel to 2004’s … Is a Real Boy. Filled with the poetic and crude contempt that characterizes the band, Say Anything turn an informal goodbye into an analysis of sexuality, the punk scene and frontman Max Bemis himself. In a lengthy statement, Bemis explains the premise of the record’s tragic main character, Oliver. He states, “I chose to write a full length about a self-loathing, slightly homophobic misogynist; essentially my opposite as a semi-actually-kinda-gay neurotic moralist.” While this is odd in the face of Bemis’ questionable, potentially transphobic comments on Twitter, it makes for the emotional colosseum one can always expect from Say Anything.
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In addition to Oliver/anti-Bemis, drummer Karl Kuehn plays the part of Oliver’s unnamed love interest “through vocal counterparts and his drumming.” The story encompasses two days during which Oliver sleeps with Kuehn’s character after meeting at a bar, hates himself for it, accepts it, gets rejected, kills Kuehn’s character and kills himself. Isn’t romance wonderful?
However, there is more to this concept record than its narrative (although you need to read Bemis’ nine-page manifesto to begin to decipher it). The rawness of Oliver Appropriate’s acoustic guitars and personal sentiments lead to the real Max Bemis.
As Bemis injects himself into this washed-up, disillusioned and sexually confused character, he manifests a bit of himself. “Pink Snot” comments on Bemis’ abuse of anti-depressant pills and the inevitability of “breaking edge” in the straight edge scene. The conceited intellect portrayed through Oliver, a “bad” millennial, gives way to lyrics like “ramble about Trump over Stellas and headline Coachella” (“Greased”) and “They took my iPhone away” (“Fired”). These words are the cornerstone of a character whose discomfort in his own skin almost matches his haughty arrogance.
In all of the sexual confusion and frustration, Kuehn’s character attempts to help Oliver make sense of his feelings in “Your Father”, explaining “People like your father don’t take it lightly when we kiss… so now you either follow, let go or bury below.” To that, Oliver remarks “I was fine before you made me know myself” (“It’s a Process”). Oliver’s inability to grapple with his bisexuality is ultimately his downfall, as “the album ends with Oliver’s ascension after death and his acceptance of what he’s done to himself, Karl, and the world” in “Sediment”.
The final chronicle of Say Anything comes to the close with a similar atmosphere. In the familiarity of Oliver Appropriate’s guitars and stripped-down drum beats, there is solace and closure in this alleged goodbye. As the curtains close on the story of Oliver, Max Bemis has the pleasure of bowing to the audience, completely comfortable in his own skin.