Album Review: Say Anything — ‘Oliver Appropriate’

Posted: by The Editor

Creating a concept album is a tough task for a musician to pull off—between the seamless and cohesive narrative that must take place within the tracks and then being able to successfully convey those themes to the audience, records hinging on a concept are usually wrought with skepticism before even being superficially absorbed. It’s this frustrating tug-o-war that can ultimately take-down even the best of lyricists. And yet, Say Anything’s assumed final release, Oliver Appropriate, boldly comes packaged as a sequel to a previous concept album by the group. Surprisingly enough, the record acts as a bittersweet end to Say Anything’s era while also providing an impressive and intellectually compelling story of sexuality, the woes of drug culture, and confusion tied together by frontman Max Bemis’ social commentary on the contemporary hassles in America.

Last year, the band announced their decision to take an indefinite hiatus. Paying homage to their 2004 album …Is a Real Boy, Oliver Appropriate is a  continuation of the anti-hero that was introduced in that record. The same record that kick-started Say Anything’s career, defining them as credible artists in the scene, and accruing them a cult-branding within fans looms heavily over their swan song. So, it only seems appropriate that the group end their journey by tipping their hat at the record that rose their platform, while also wrapping up the fictitious depiction of Bemis’s life, all in one.

The obvious takeaway from listening to Oliver Appropriate is that it’s a tragic story ending in tragedy, looking through the lens of the boy, Oliver, who is a Brooklyn native that struggles with drug abuse, the comprehension of his own sexuality, and feelings of isolation. Wonderfully executed, the concept of Oliver doesn’t come across cheesy or disingenuous as the record provides an outlet—a mask in Oliver that allows Bemis to express his most dire and exhausting journal entries without facing them head-on. There are many lows explored throughout the record that journey things like unemployment on “Fired,” the juxtaposition of drug culture in “Pink Snot,” the modern struggle and structure of sexuality in “Send You Off”, and the appropriate, yet oddly uplifting goodbye to the character in the emotional ballad “Sediment.”

The musicality of the record is simple, yet raw. Hovering around acoustic guitars and simple electronics, Oliver Appropriate furthers the attachment to the cleverly construed lyrics that curate the narrative by stripping back the instrumentals and focusing on Bemis’ words and the gruff, frustration, and melancholy that his vocals carry. Almost perfectly written, the lines do have a bubbling, caricature nature that encourages the listener to not get too lost in the unhappiness of Oliver—to remember this is still a record, still Bemis’ passive-aggressive growls that one his wading between. His humor mixed with the darker anguish of the albums themes allows a healthy equilibrium of pleasurable listening and emotional connectedness that doesn’t bog down its concept.

“Ew Jersey” is an obvious standout on the record. Designed to be tongue-in-cheek, the ballad develops Oliver’s character by describing him to be a washed-up rockstar who can never seem to pull himself out from the wall he feels he has been cornered into regarding his career. The track details the fact that Oliver has just returned from a “fake hiatus” which can be assumed was announced to drum-up attention. He finds himself being up for anything, exploring his sexuality by kissing boys and girls which leads into the extremely upbeat “Mouth Breather”, which follows Oliver’s deep infatuation over a boy named Karl. Brilliantly executed, the song prides itself over its dreamy haze of an instrumental, further guiding the listener and plot into his journey of modern sexuality.

The other standout has to be the catchy “Send You Off”, which just screams to be recognized for the infectious sound underlaid with the acknowledgement of how our culture explores sexuality. This track lives up to Bemis’ statement of the album being the group’s “most inclusive to date.” And “Send You Off”, as well as Oliver Appropriate, doesn’t fall-back on a lazy formula of pronouns to address inclusivity. It dives deeper into it’s analysis and experience-driven narrative on what the phrase “love is love” truly means. Oliver, being self-proclaimed as “one slick son of a bitch”, retells his night that ended with his awareness of the passion that engulfed him as he laid in another man’s arms, yet there’s a catch that implies this spurt of happiness will be gone in a blink-of-an-eye. The track handles the emotional conflicts of it’s main character by tying it to its sing-a-long attitude.

After finishing Oliver Appropriate, it’s understood that Oliver isn’t just a fictitious exploitation used for a concept record, but it’s the dancing exaggeration of Bemis himself. Through the wit and snarky themes that plague Oliver’s woeful journey, Bemis’ vocals and choice of lyricism cuts through the wire that hangs between reality and fiction. Sticking true to his outspoken yet highly vulnerable, emotional, and heartfelt interpretations of life’s experiences, he gives his fans and critics alike a lasting gift that doesn’t disappoint. If anything, this is the highest point that Say Anything could end on, and if this proves to be their last installment, they should be damn proud of the product that came from the concept that is Oliver Appropriate.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Hope Ankney | @hope_ankleknee

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