Two Lefts Don't Make a Right ... But Three Do
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Mar
What is it about the punk-pop/rock band Relient K? Though their self-titled debut from 2000 was well received, the quartet from Canton, Ohio, at first seemed little more than a fun and frivolous garage rock band sentenced to "opening act" status for the duration of their short career. Yet in the time between the release of that album and their breakthrough sophomore effort, the band garnered a loyal fanbase by touring with headlining act Five Iron Frenzy – both bands draw a similar audience of savvy teens looking for fun and catchy music with deeper meaning. Their newfound cult status fueled interest in 2001's
This rapid-yet-quiet build in buzz for Relient K has teens and college students salivating for more music from the band. I'm happy to report, then, that just as the band grew significantly between their first two albums, so they have again with the humorously and truthfully titled
First, there's the band's sound. Relient K is a rock band, but a very accessible one because of their penchant for melodic pop. As such, this is a young band that appeals to parents nearly as much as their teenage children. A clean-cut group in their early 20s, they look and sound like the boys next door because they are, in fact, the boys next door – straight out of Smalltown, America, in the Midwest. Because of their punk-influenced garage rock sound, they've long been compared to Weezer and MxPx. On
Soon-to-be signature rock anthems like "Trademark" and "Chapstick, Chapped Lips and Things Like Chemistry" are great examples of this. Listen to the way they effortlessly shift the feel within a song like "I Am Understood?", which goes from fast punk rock to a 12/8 shuffle to a pop ballad to hard rock. The key change is evidence that Relient K has further developed their rock sound while shedding many of the sophomoric elements that occasionally creeped into their first two albums – all of this while remaining true to their style.
Which brings us next to Relient K's sense of humor, which is a bit like that of modern-day "Weird Al" Yankovic. This band can be irresistibly fun and hilarious when they want to be. One of their best examples is "Mood Rings," which tries to understand the complex emotions of girls — "They are time bombs, and they are ticking – the only question's when they'll blow up." The solution? Get emotional girls to wear mood rings so that guys can readily see how they're feeling. Anyone who's ever gone through college can relate to the endless woes expressed in "College Kids," which rightfully warns that higher education is not for everyone. "In Love With the 80s (Pink Tux to the Prom)" is a tribute to the fads of that decade and "Gibberish" is indeed inspired lunacy.
But perhaps most appealing of all is the genius behind the madness. As silly as "Chapstick, Chapped Lips, and Things Like Chemistry" and "Hoopes I Did It Again" are, they're both thoughtful takes on relationships. "Forward Motion" offers a brilliant line concerning the failures we will all encounter in life, and our need to move past them – "To experience the bittersweet / To taste defeat then brush my teeth." Better yet are the songs that express our need for God's grace and love. "Trademark" refers to our recurring sinful nature — "It's my trademark move to turn my back on You — to realize I should improve." In answer to the titular question of "I Am Understood?", the answer is yes, thanks to an infinitely patient and gracious God. The song personalizes a relationship with Jesus in a way that teens can appreciate. The themes naturally lead to those of surrender and humility expressed in both the acoustic ballad "Getting Into You" and the prayerful "Falling Out" — "Face down, this carpet tastes like coffee grounds / Ground into my face now / And every angle is covered with just another band-aid."
It's no wonder teens love Relient K. The songs are catchy and rocking, but they offer sardonic wit and depth instead, rather than simple sentiments. Matt Thiessen, the primary songwriter, confirms this — "I think we relate to our audience because we are our audience. We like the same music that our fans do, songs that helps us have a good time but that also make us think." Granted, the album's fourteen tracks make the album sound longer than it is, especially when a number of them sound similar to each other. For many, that's all the better —