Relient K: Five Score and Seven Years Ago
Matthew Thiessen has several advantages over Brian Wilson. One, as you’ll remember from the last Relient K review in this paper, vocalist Matt is considerably prettier than the former brains behind the Beach Boys. Two, he’s also not crazy, which doesn’t help his iconic rock-star status, but it has certainly helped the clarity of his vision for the latest album from Relient K (or ‘The K’ as classic rock fans probably call them).
Why the comparison? It’s just that much of ‘Five Score and Seven Years Ago’ reminds me of Pet Sounds era Beach Boys. I’m not suggesting Relient K’s fifth full-length is as important, but there are similarities. Relient K are best known for their roots in Pop-Punk, a genre, like surf music, that is generally found on the ‘not so much’ side of the scale of seriousness in rock music. And as Brian Wilson took the Beach Boys in a new, more nuanced and complex direction without sacrificing Pop sensibilities or taking the easy road of just becoming harder or more obscure, so Relient K seem to be achieving that elusive goal for young popsters: growing up gracefully.
Perhaps American bands wanting to grow up in rather than out of Pop circles turn to the Beach Boys like British bands turn to the Beatles. Thus ‘Five Score and Twenty’’ does not turn to the mysterious East or the cottagey insularity of suburban childhood as some BritPop bands followed John and Paul in doing, but instead creates ‘pocket symphonies’, isolating and over-emphasising the sugary backing vocals and gentle melodies that in the past were merely the background to powerful hooks. It’s a different approach, and if you are looking for the in-your-face catchiness of 2004’s ‘Mmhmm’ you may at first be disappointed. This is an album with less to prove, moving away from the myspace cool of the Emo/Screamo sound that added edge to their previous offering and towards something more organic.
Make no mistake, there are hits-aplenty on this one, from the ultra-cute girlfriend love of ‘must have done something right’ (‘we should get jerseys because we make a good team/but yours would look better than mine because you’re out of my league’) to the singalong woah-oh-oh of ‘Taking You With Me’, but this is a transitional album, pointing to some true greatness on the horizon for Relient K. Hints of it appear in the 60s avant garde a cappella of ‘Pleading the Fifth’ (you’ll get the Beach Boys references here and elsewhere) and the cute risqué (for Christian bookstores anyway) quirkiness of ‘Faking My Own Suicide’ whose childishness conceals a dark sense of humour beneath the surface of this squeakiest of clean Christian bands.
But the highlight has to be ‘Deathbed’, an eleven minute epic, similar to the last My Chemical Romance album in its high-concept approach to a breathtakingly simple end-of-life soliloquy. Five Score and Seven Years Ago is worth buying on the strength of this anthem to Grace alone, but offers so much more.