Relient K, “Collapsible Lung”: The Fall Has Begun

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It’s here.  “Collapsible Lung.”
We’ve been waiting for a while, too.  This is the first Relient K LP since 2009’s Forget and Not Slow Down (which I might add was fantastic).  That’s four years, people.  Four years.

As you can tell, I’m a fan.  I was really looking forward to this one.  It’s got some good stuff in it, but I must admit I have mixed feelings about the direction the band has gone.

This is the seventh album by Relient K, but this is the first that they’ve brought in co-writers for.  Matthew Thiessen said it was to
downloadbring in more diversity to the album, but I’m not so sure that was a good thing.  First of all, the fact that there were co-writers on this record is much more obvious than it should be.  Each of their albums has had a very cohesive sound to it; that was okay, because it was always a different sound than their last album.  This album has some cool stuff on it, but it suffers from a sound that goes all over the place like a hormonal love-struck teenager.

That said, the album does have some familiar Relient K signatures.  “Don’t Blink” is an optimistic feel-good tune typical of the group’s signature sound and “Lost Boy” fits right in with the numerous other spectacular love songs the band produces.  They also manage to make some of the new musical elements work pretty well.  The fuzzy synth of “Boomerang” and the acoustic sound of “Can’t Complain” is pretty cool.  I do wish they would have stuck to one sound, but what they did is still pretty cool.  Most of it.

“Gloria” is the first sign that something went wrong somewhere.  The song starts with a kind of funky Maroon 5-esque sound, but the chorus is laden with a nearly atonal melody and a bass that is so overpowering you forget that there are other instruments, not to mention that Theissen starts to sound like Robert Plant.  I like Robert Plant.  I don’t like Matthew Theissen sounding like Robert Plant.

download (1)Speaking of Maroon 5, Theissen sounds quite a bit like Adam Levine at times, especially in “PTL.”  Matthew Theissen’s voice sounds noticeably different at several points on this album.  At times I don’t like it.  I do like it in “PTL,” but I sincerely hope this isn’t a sign of a continuing direction.

Lyrically, Relient K has always impressed me.  I’ve often said two of the deepest lyricists in music are Matthew Theissen and Adam Young.  In this department, Relient K doesn’t disappoint—for the most part.

The true love songs on this album, such as “Lost Boy” and “Sweeter” are both deep and “sweet.”  Other songs about life show a kind of optimism missing in most modern music.  “Don’t Blink” shows a refreshing take on life as something to be enjoyed instead of survived, something we could all take a lesson from.   The title track emphasizes our mortality and faces eventual and inevitable death with grace and sobriety, and is probably the strongest song on the entire record.

Collapsible Lung” is also hurt some by some of the lyrics.  “Boomerang” describes a deplorable relationship which ought not to have ever existed, which isn’t helped by the line “Girl what was I drinking?”  I like to think that admittedly Christian musicians just aren’t thinking when they write lines like that, but there’s only so many ways to interpret that line.  In “Gloria,” Theissen repeatedly sings “Why don’t ya teach me how to love?”  In secular music, that would quite obviously refer to a sexual context.  In this case I’m sure it doesn’t, but it’s very easy to interpret it that way, especially given the rougher tone of that song.  I also don’t like the fact that a “love” song is titled “Disaster.”  This track also has the most problematic line on the album: “Baby you look so sexy so what do I do when we get home from church?”  Again, there’s only so many ways to interpret that.  I’m especially disappointed in a supposed Christian musician’s use of a term so degrading to women as “sexy.”

I like the album.  It’s got some cool musical stuff that clearly shows Relient K isn’t going to grow stale even after seven albums.  However, it also has some questionable lyrics at times.  It’s true that they are few, but few compared to none on previous albums is worrisome.  I’m concerned that they are becoming more like other artists; perhaps this is partially due to their use of co-writing.  If so, I hope that isn’t a mistake they make a second time.

Song-by-song Breakdown

1. Don’t Blink: This song probably sounds more like Relient K than anything else on the album.  It’s a really cool take on life comparable to “Forget and Not Slow Down.”  Some notable lyrics are “Don’t you blink or it’s gone/In another life who knows what we’d become?”  “Life is beautiful in you” and “Making plans and drawing maps/I plan to take the righteous path” 4/5

2. Boomerang: I really like this song musically, but not lyrically.  It describes a train-wreck of a relationship, with terms like “Our love is like a boomerang/Snap back snap back here we go again.”  It contains one of the more questionable lyrics on the record, with “Girl what was I thinking?/Girl what was I drinking?”  If this was a record by secular musicians I wouldn’t mark it as much as I have, but it’s a disappointing departure from previous Relient K song subjects. 1/5

3. Lost Boy : This one is really groovy.  At this point, I’m really liking the Thiessen’s falsetto, as well as the whistling.  It’s a description of a boy in less than desirable circumstances previously (“I was with women I didn’t know”) who found love (“One look from your eyes and I knew that it was right this time”).  Though not the best song on the record, it’s still pretty strong. 4/5

4. If I Could Take You Home: I question the title choice.  It makes it sound like the song is going to be akin to Nickelback’s trashy “Follow You Home.”  In reality, it’s a plea to a woman to “be her man.”  They are very heartfelt lyrics that tug at the heartstrings incessantly, with the words “Like broken pieces of a shattered dream/Or like a movie with a missing scene/You’d like to believe/I’m nothing special but if I could take you home/I’d be all that you’d need.” 3/5

5. Can’t Complain  This one sounds like a Jason Mraz tune, which is either fantastic or atrocious, depending on who you are.  I think it works.  It’s definitely one of the catchiest on the album and has a great applicable message, with lyrics like “I know pleasure has to come with pain” “Life is going to suck some days” and “I can’t complain” 5/5

6. Gloria: I find this one to be the most despicable.  Like “Boomerang,” it describes an atrocious relationship, this time in the terms of a jealous girlfriend.  After putting her overprotective jealousy in ridiculous terms, Thiessen sings “Hey Gloria what’s come over ya?/Why don’t you teach me how to love?” with an accusation clear as day: “You don’t love me, you’re just an immature sap.”  1/5

7. PTL: This one is my pick for the strongest musically.  Thiessen’s voice in the chorus reminds me of Maroon 5, which is definitely not a bad thing.  It’s somber, though.  He tells the story of meeting the girl when he says “Told you I’d be the best you’d never had/You said are you serious/I said like a heart attack.”  This is quickly followed by somber regret with “I never meant to be your part-time lover/Then again I’ve never been a full-time man” and “I guess I’m the fool that you think I am.”  It may not ultimately be a happy song, but it’s a very somber message that is needed – guys: don’t expect love until you’re willing to step up and be a man. 5/5

8. Disaster: This one has a pretty cool horn section that makes it pretty interesting musically.  It reminds me a lot of Fun., which is never a bad thing.  The bad thing, however, is  found in the lyric “Baby you look so sexy so what do I do when we get home from church?”, as well as “This has disaster written all over it”  I like to think the best of Thiessen’s lyrics, but this one sounds suspiciously like sex.  Any casual listener who doesn’t know the group would think that.  That’s especially dangerous when it’s found in the same line as “church.”  Very damaging. 1/5

9. When You Were My Baby: I don’t tend to like ex-girlfriend songs, whether they’re positive or negative.  I still have a hard time liking this one, although I do really like the lyric “When you were my baby/You must’ve done something to change me.” 3/5

10. Sweeter: I’m pretty picky with my love songs, but I really like this one.  I don’t even think it’s that interesting musically, but lines like “Even when her eyes are closed, can’t keep from staring”  “She’s an apparition clouding up my vision but I don’t pay no mind” and “She’s sweeter than sugar till the sun comes down” make it pretty hard not to like it. 5/5

11. Collapsible Lung: This is by far my favorite song on the album.  A lot of albums in this genre tend to have weak endings, but Relient K saved the best for last.  It’s a fantastic outlook on impending death.  Acceptance is clear in the words “Took a step into the great unknown and found that time won’t slow down.”  Thiessen speaks of heading to Heaven, singing “Like a ladder with a missing rung it’s a slow climb headed back to the sky,” and says that he’s excited for it through the line “I think I’m supposed to be well on my way by now.”  Fantastic. 5/5

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