Say Anything has one of most fiercely divided fan-bases of any band I can think of. There are those fans who believe all their work is good, those fans who like only their more recent work, and those fans who like only their first two records. For this latter group, ‘Is a Real Boy’ and ‘In Defense of the Genre’ are often considered crowning achievements not only for the band, but often their genre. Between Max Bemis’ goofy but commanding vocals and bizarre but vivid lyricism and his band’s eclectic music, bouncing in a second from jaunty pop-punk to a more aggressive, almost hardcore influenced sound to a soft acoustic ballad and back flowing perfectly natural, there’s a lot to love in the combined forty songs of their first two records. But to these fans, the band just couldn’t keep that energy up on their third effort.
To those fans, I say, listen to The Island of Misfit Toys. See, listening through ‘I Made You Something,’ I can’t help but be reminded of Say Anything’s seminal albums. There’s the vocals, which could pass for Bemis himself at times – for instance, listen to the opening seconds of “Moral Melt” or the chorus of “Healthier Olympics.” The lyrics are every bit as descriptive as his, and just about as cryptic. Just as Say Anything never really seemed to settle on one style for either of those two first records, neither here does The Island of Misfit Toys, preferring to keep listeners on their toes, be it by their inverted use of song structures or unpredictable album sequencing.
Fear not, reader, ‘I Made You Something’ is a readily enjoyable album even if you do not like or know Say Anything. The Island of Misfit Toys is no carbon copy; the band is wholly its own entity. Take for example “Moral Melt,” the album’s single – and the one that really got me curious about The Island of Misfit Toys. The song plays more like a medley than nearly anything else, going from a pop-punk, dual-vocal led verse to post-hardcore chorus to a post-rock influenced bridge all in the first two minutes. The song gets no less chaotic after that, culminating in a two minute acoustic outro to flow nicely into “Angelswarm,” the band’s five-minute take on the acoustic ballad. The guitar is certainly present, but rather than being a focus of the song, it drops out every couple of seconds so the singer can show off his voice. The barely-there guitar strums feel more like texture than backing music, and as such, it’s an interesting twist on a rather cliche style.
Perhaps the best song here is “Architects,” which closes the album. It’s the most distinctly The Island of Misfit Toys sounding, if such a song could exist. What I mean by that is that, throughout its seven minutes, it feels like a recap of the rest of the record. Which makes sense, considering its reprise of “Bird and Worm”’s hook; “Tell me,” the whole band shouts in the song’s climax, “do we look anything like a mirror?” Up to this point, the song had gone from a soft vocal intro to an upbeat punk track to even including a spoken word section. The song’s final minute pulls you back down to earth with an acoustic closing, not unlike how “Moral Melt” was wrapped up. On paper, an amalgamation of themes of sounds like this could never work, but on ‘I Made You Something,’ somehow, it does.
Actually, that’s a very fitting summary of the whole record. The Island of Misfit Toys pulls off some pretty ridiculous feats, from stitching the whole album into a conceptually and sonically cohesive piece to making a hook out of the line “Making my leg hair thick with wet.” Of course, all of this does mean that ‘I Made You Something’ isn’t for everyone. But those who do like it are sure to love it. 3.5/5