I was always under the impression that Max Bemis was the epicenter of everything that made Say Anything so fantastic. However, since the release of his recent solo albums under the moniker of Max Bemis and the Painful Splits, I've begun to rethink that stance. Instead of these records being a chip off the old block with biting lyricism and energetic cynicism, we're greeted with what appears to be the appearance of Bemis' awkward alter ego. It began with the self-titled LP in 2010 -- an undeniable disappointment, but overall not an entirely terrible effort for Bemis dipping his toes in the water. The music was a lo-fi, acoustic jumble of a record with the overarching theme of 'keep it simple, keep it safe,' with the lyricism never stretching beyond the boundaries of Bemis' latest works. Since then came the sequel with a name as simple as its contents, Max Bemis and the Painful Splits 2.
The basic outline for each track on the album is as follows: establish the basic chord progression immediately and enter Bemis with lyrics consisting of self-conscious tales of his adulthood and/or love songs about his recent marital acquisition Sherri Dupree. Repeat this ad infinitum and you have yourself a record that suits the lifestyle change for Bemis, but not quite who he is as a musician. Though, credit where credit is due, he is still able to turn a phrase and craft a decently catchy tune when he desires. 'I Never Knew You Were So Lonely' is both a satisfyingly gritty opening track and a decent tune to hum along to with its catchy ups and downs. That along with the few tracks that follow are perfect examples of Bemis doing what he does best, but he never quite capitalizes on that ability throughout the remainder of the record. Instead he restricts himself to sappy poetry and forgettable acoustic riffs to accentuate his gradual decrease of quality since late 2009.
Somewhere between the release of Say Anything's self-titled record in autumn 2009, and the winter of 2010, Bemis decided to ditch the irony and self-deprecation for a more straight-shot approach to both musicianship and lyricism, which is glaringly obvious from track one. He exists best when he's booming along with abstract synth patterns and atypical pop-punk rhythms, and not so much when he's alone with an acoustic guitar and a trigger-finger on the reverb. For fans of Bemis' early works on Baseball, you may find a track or two to enjoy on Max Bemis and the Painful Splits 2, but for fans of his later work with Say Anything, you will find yourself sorely disappointed.