The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
Relient K has built a remarkable following in a short time. The Ohio-based quartet released their self-titled debut in 2000 and became the top-selling project of the year for a new Christian rock act. I'd attribute this mostly to smart marketing. Relient K opened for Five Iron Frenzy on tour last year, and both bands share a knack for inspired luncacy—fun, high-energy songs that are just as often goofy and silly as they are worshipful and thought-provoking. Even though Five Iron Frenzy is a ska-based band and Relient K is a pop punk band along the lines of Weezer, both are cut from the same cloth and the only thing that really makes them sound dramatically different are Five Iron's horns. Relient K is a solid band in its own right with the members' own brew of witty songwriting. As testament to the band's popularity, Relient K will be co-headlining with Five Iron Frenzy for this year's tour (which will feature the world's largest "Sock Puppet Choir" ever, provided by the audience).
The band's sophomore release, The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek, shows the band "maturing" its sound (if it's possible to use that word in the same sentence as Relient K). While reading up on the band's new album, I was impressed by Relient K's desire to learn the music business from anyone willing to lend them advice—it's not every day a young band is willing to take suggestions from others. As a result, Anatomy shows the band reaching in new directions. Band members Matt Thiessen (lead vocals, guitar, songwriter), Brian Pittman (bass), Matt Hoopes (guitar), and new drummer Dave Douglas sound tighter on this album compared to the debut. They still have a raw garage-band sound similar to MxPx and Weezer, but you can tell they've improved as musicians.
Fans need not fear a change in the band's format—many songs are as silly as ever. "Sadie Hawkins Dance" is pure high school pulp, recalling the same comedic '50s nostalgia as Happy Days (or if you prefer, Weezer's "Buddy Holly" video). There's also "I'm Lion-O," a loving tribute to the old Thundercats cartoon from the '80s. The song is preceded by the intro entitled "Lion Wilson," which of course is a playful nod to the Beach Boys. And don't even ask me to try and explain the point of "May the Horse Be With You," other than speculating on what fun that song will be in concert.
Of course, other Relient K songs have a point to them other than fun, though they use the same satirical humor as Steve Taylor and the Newsboys to express the message. "Down in Flames" uses the image of a plane going down in flames to condemn the tendency of Christians to shake their finger at sinners rather than loving them, and "Maybe it's Maybeline" deals with our habit of shifting the blame for all of our problems on anyone else but ourselves, including God, rather than accepting the consequences. "My Way or the Highway … " asks listeners to be decisive about their faith, rather than sitting on the fence. The cello section at the beginning of the song is very funny indeed. Perhaps most indicative of the band's growth is their inclusion of three straight-up worship songs this time, and I'm not talking about simple three-chord dittys that say, "I'm going to praise you now." My favorite worship song on the album is the closer, "Less Is More," an uptempo pop song of confession that is bookended with a gentle piano-based prayer for humility.
With fourteen songs (not including a few mini-tracks) and nearly an hour of music, The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek really delivers. If you haven't figured it out yet, this album isn't for everybody. Relient K is mostly targeted to teens and the college crowd, though I (in my late 20s) got a kick out of them and know several youth leaders who love this band too (and, of course, the majority of my church's youth group is literally addicted to these guys). I know it's still early in the game for Relient K, but if their new album is any indicator, I see this band (like Five Iron Frenzy) growing with every album in musicianship and maturity. Just don't get too mature, guys!