Pop-punk’s pulse beat strong in the mid- to late ’90s, but somewhere around the turn of the century, it seemed to trickle out. That’s not to say it disappeared, but the sound in general grew stale, as new styles of rock (often borrowing from old styles) emerged in the forefront. With Allison Weiss‘ new album, Say What You Mean, that brand sounds fresh again. Weiss doesn’t necessarily bring much new to the table, but something about her interpretation of the genre brought it back to life in my ears. Her solid power chords, classic yet stimulating, and vocals that convey emotion as much as the lyrics themselves probably have a lot to do with it.
Music can be so powerful when its effect on you is not only visceral, but emotional. I think that’s where Weiss won me over with this release, because her heartbreak is so relatable — as heartbreak is wont to be, I suppose. She covers a decent range of scenarios that can come from a rough break-up, using varied levels of sass to drive her point throughout the album.
Say What You Mean opens with “Making It Up,” a relatively light, poppy tune, implementing a bit of synth atop the basic guitar/bass/drums set-up. The song pleads to an ex-lover who’s acting like whatever they had together never happened: “Am I making it up? Was it not what you said? Was I never the one? Was it all in my head?” This juxtaposition of cheerful melody to despondent lyrics is always a satisfying angle, because instead of burying the listener in sad feelings, it uplifts them.
Likewise, on “How to Be Alone,” after singing “I guess they say all good things gotta end,” Weiss’ verse is met with some jaunty banjo licks. The song’s sentiment isn’t lost, however, as she goes on to lament “I’m tired of being angry, and I’m tired of being strong, and I’m tired of being treated like it’s me who did you wrong. Like a knife into my back, can’t forget that kind of hurt,” and closes out the song with increasing anguish in her voice as she repeats “I miss you all the time” over a heady bassline.
Not to dampen Weiss’ cred as a formidable pop-punk musician, but the musical flavor of “One Way Love” is reminiscent of songs from Josie and the Pussycats (2001). It’s certainly one of the album’s more simple offerings, but no less enjoyable. She still excels at taking complex emotional ideas and putting them into words that are easily understood, not unlike the lyrics of one Rivers Cuomo. With “I Was an Island,” Weiss expresses how, before a particular relationship, she was a lone wolf with an impenetrable heart: “I was a fighter, and I was so brave, but I lowered my sword when you held me and swore you’d stay.” Another romance that, unfortunately for Weiss, did not go as planned, leaving her to struggle with how to once again live her life alone.
The album’s second half is for the most part less punchy than the first, turning down the punk-style dial on a few tunes (although “Don’t Go” may be the punkest of them all). “Wait for Me” is lightly coated in chamber pop, with violin and cello complementing an acoustic guitar, and the album closer “I’ll Be Okay” is a tranquil testimonial to the grieving process. Though the words imply Weiss is falling apart while trying to let go, the song’s title refrain is like a mantra to herself, a promise that she’ll keep it together and accept she’s perhaps even better off … or at least she will be.