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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Nov
Sounds like … hard rocking punk and power pop along the lines of Jimmy Eat World, New Found Glory, MxPx, Green Day, and Sum 41, with some quieter piano-driven parts similar to Ben FoldsAt a glance … as familiar and overdone as the punk pop sound is, Relient K has grown into one of the genre's best bands thanks to strengthened musicianship, crisp production, and thoughtful lyricismTrack Listing0. mmHmmThe One I'm Waiting ForBe My EscapeHigh of 75I So Hate ConsequencesThe Only Thing Worse Than Beating a Dead Horse Is Betting on OneMy Girl's Ex-BoyfriendMore Than UselessWhich to Bury, Us or the HatchetLet It All OutWho I Am Hates Who I've BeenMaintain ConsciousnessThis Week the TrendLife After Death & Taxes (Failure II)When I Go Down

Wondering who's next to break big in Christian music after Stacie Orrico, MercyMe, and Switchfoot? All indicators point to Canton, Ohio's Relient K. Since coming onto the scene in 2000, the power punk band has amassed one of the most loyal followings in CCM, selling more than a million copies of their first three albums together. The success has led to opportunities in both Christian and mainstream markets—Gotee now shares a distribution deal with Capitol. Additionally, the band is strengthening and maturing their sound with every album, including their latest tight-lipped title mmHmm.

That last observation might cause some unease among fans. Not all followings can readily accept that the best bands grow over time, and many in Relient K's audience still want the young rockers that don't take themselves too seriously—the guys that sang about Thundercats, the Sadie Hawkins dance, and basic relationship foibles. But you have to admire a band that can gradually shed its novelty rock label and evolve into one of the frontrunners in the power punk style.

Continuing where 2003's Two Lefts Don't Make a Right … but Three Do left off, Relient K sounds better than ever on mmHmm, again combining the punk rock and power pop of bands like Jimmy Eat World, MxPx, and Sum 41. The band also dabbles more into passages of Ben Folds-styled piano balladry to capture mood and punctuate points within and between songs. With so many bands today getting stuck in a rut, it's refreshing to hear one that (like Switchfoot) seems to get better with each album. Astute music geeks will also note that Tom Lord-Alge mixed the album; with a long resume that includes Dave Matthews Band, U2, and Switchfoot, he's got a knack for making everything sound crisper and brighter. It's the sonic difference between a small-budget Christian recording and an expensive sounding mainstream effort. That on top of the band's skills, which grow sharper with every passing year, as does frontman Matthew Thiessen's clever lyrics.

The songwriting is, in fact, where Relient K has matured the most. The rock is still fun throughout, and there are a few playful tracks, like the literally sunny outlook in "High of 75" about Midwestern seasonal affect disorder, or "My Girl's Ex-boyfriend," in which he sweetly thanks a former suitor for ending the romance: "Who would've known he would leave everything I need?" But other songs with funny titles are actually quite sincere in message. "Maintain Consciousness" and "This Week the Trend" really are both intended as teen wake-up calls for apathy and laziness. "Which to Bury, Us or the Hatchet" is the angriest on the album, letting loose some impressive rock rage as it struggles over resolving or ending a relationship. It seamlessly transitions into the gentlest track, piano-based "Let It All Out," repairing the damage with almost spiritual reconciliation: "Remember, the end will justify the pain it took to get us there." This runs deeper than the usual teenage romance attributed to punk rock, very much applicable to married life as well.

It's also possible that mmHmm is Relient K's most openly spiritual and meaningful recording yet. Themes of grace abound in songs like "I So Hate Consequences" as well as "Be My Escape," which is clearly about abandoning our old ways and embracing God's perfect will: "I fought you for so long, I should have let you win/Oh, how we regret those things we do/And all I was trying to do was save my own skin/Oh, but so were you." The confessional "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been" could be directed towards reconciliation with God or another loved one. Thiessen expresses faith in "Life After Death & Taxes," and reminds us in "More Than Useless" that God finds value in us despite our shortcomings. The album finishes with the prayerful "When I Go Down," which is like Relient K's "Bohemian Rhapsody" in that it's a seven-minute epic of shifting styles, impressively matching the lyrical journey from sadness to hope: "Any control I thought I had just slips through my hands/While my ever-present conscience shakes its head and reprimands me/Then and there, I confess/I'll blame all this on my selfishness/Yet you love me and that consumes me/And I'll stand up again and do so willingly."

Because this is a departure from the band's signature goofiness, not everyone will consider this Relient K's best work. (And no, that lengthy titled song about the "Dead Horse" is more a heady diatribe than a silly gag.) But if you go in expecting a solidly executed rock album with thoughtful songwriting, mmHmm delivers and then some. Considering all the flash-in-the-pan soundalikes, Relient K is a rarity—a power punk band with a long, bright future ahead of them.

(Note: if you hit rewind on your CD player when the first track begins and go back about twenty seconds, you can listen to the quick "title track" listed in the song sequence.)