God and Rock seem like an unlikely combination. A quick look at the mortality rate of Rock musicians and you'd easily assume that the Almighty hates Rock and its practitioners.
Rock musicians are usually at more comfortable tipping over carts than polishing apples. But there are those who play Rock from a Christian point of view. And almost always, these performers are limited to Christian radio stations. Just like R&B or Country, Christian Rock sits just outside the mainstream ever ready to cross over at a moment's notice. But just as foul language on an R&B record or a steel guitar laced into a Country track, any mention of God or Jesus will keep a Christian act from reaching a broader audience.
Groups like Relient K and Switchfoot have been particularly adept at omitting direct God/Jesus references in their songs while keeping the message and the greater glory intact. Of course, conservative Christians have a problem with this. Hell, they have a problem with just about everything - probably even the whole concept of Christians playing or listening to Rock.
Relient K's singer, Matt Thiessen, set the record straight. "Call us whatever you want," he was quoted saying. "You can call us a Christian band, you can call us a Rock and Roll band. We don't care. We're just doing what we do. We're having fun."
Relient K (that's right, named after the Chrysler Plymouth - Thiessen's car) hails from Canton, OH. In '98, Thiessen, guitarist Matt Hoopes, bassist Brian Pittman and drummer Todd Frescone formed the group. Over time, Pittman and Frescone fell by the wayside. John Warne landed on bass and a couple drummers came and went before Dave Douglas arrived.
Two years down the road, the group's debut album, "All Work And No Play," came out brimming with pop culture references and Christian themes. Their sophomore album, "The Anatomy Of The Tongue In Cheek" made them a Christian mainstay. But their label, Gotee, landed a clothing deal on the band's behalf with Abercrombie & Fitch, a retailer know for suggestive and downright racy ads - seemingly obsessed with having their customers take clothes off rather than keep them on. Christian groups howled and the deal was severed.
A couple more albums were issued before '04 release, "Mmhmm" shot the group into the mainstream. The platinum album had a pair of hits, "Be My Escape" and "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been," that helped turn previous efforts gold.
Guitarist Jon Schneck was added in '05 to round out the line-up.
'07 album, "Five Score & Seven Years Ago" had an immediate impact climbing into Billboard's Top 20. The single "Forgiven" went to Christian radio while "Must Have Done Something Right " traveled the secular route.
While on the road Relient K's bus caught fire. The group escaped uninjured but cameras, phones, iPods, clothes, and merchandise were destroyed. The major causalities were Douglas' drum kit and Thiessen laptop containing unfinished songs. Fortunately, most of their gear was intact.
Later in '07, the group released a Christmas album titled, "Let It Snow, Baby... Let It Reindeer." Just days before the album's release, Douglas announced his departure to pursue other creative endeavors. He finished out the tour and was later replaced by Ethan Luck.
In the meantime, Relient K, Switchfoot and Ruth recorded "Rebuild." The track could be downloaded free on the Switchfoot website or purchased with proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity.
'08 saw the arrival of "The Nashville Tennis EP" (a play on 'Nashville, Tennessee') and "The Bird And The Bee Sides." "The Nashville Tennis EP" contained original material while "The Bird And The Bee Sides" featured previously released tracks, with a handful coming from the "Vinyl Countdown" EP. The double EP officially fulfilled Relient K's contract with Gotee Records. They subsequently signed with Mono Vs. Stereo (Gotee Records imprint).
Produced by Mark Lee Townsend and mixed by Andy Wallace, "Forget And Not Slow Down" was Relient K's the sixth full-length studio album. The '09 set was their first with Luck and their debut on Mono Vs. Stereo.
The album debuted at #15 on the Billboard 200 but went to #1 in Christian Albums survey. It also landed in the Top 5 on the Alternative Albums and Rock Albums charts.
Relient K issued a covers EP, "Is for Karaoke" in '11. Four months later, "Is For Karaoke EP, Part 2," arrived. They did renditions of songs ranging from the sublime - "The Distance" (Cake), "Interstate Love Song" (STP) and "One Headlight" (The Wallflowers) to the ridiculous - "You're The Inspiration" (Chicago) , "Africa" (Toto) and "Baby" (Justin Bieber). Seriously?
Less than a month after Relient K announced that their next album would be titled "Collapsible Lung," Luck stated he was no longer in the group.
Tracks for "Collapsible Lung" featured an impressive collection of pop oriented songwriters - Fernando Garibay (Lady Gaga), Ari Levine (Cee Lo Green, Bruno Mars), Evan Bogart (Beyonce, Rihanna) and Tim Pagnotta (lead singer/writer for Sugarcult).
"This time around, we wanted to have a collection of songs that surprised even us," stated Thiessen, who also co-wrote the Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen pop hit "Good Time." "Each song includes a different combination of authors, yet there is an underlying thread that ties the tunes together thematically."
2000 Relient K
2001 The Anatomy Of The Tongue in Cheek
2003 Two Lefts Don't Make A Right... But Three Do
2007 Five Score And Seven Years Ago
2007 Let It Snow, Baby... Let It Reindeer
2009 Forget And Not Slow Down
2011 Is For Karaoke/Pt. 2
2013 Collapsible Lung
Relient K is reminiscent of Blink 182, only without the angst or snotty outlook. In other words, not much like them at all except a sonic resemblance. Relient K comes across as friendly and accessible. There certainly is, in these troubled times (there's always troubled times) a need for a safe haven amid the rancor.
"Mmhmm" is a perfect example of Punk-lite. Originally, Punk was a nasty kiss off to the world but for Relient K it's all about getting along, helping out and striving for self-improvement.
"Five Score & Seven Years Ago," is a "tour de force" effort ranging from Beach Boys' harmonies ("Plead The Fifth") to jangling '70s pop ("Must Have Done Something Right") to Alt. acoustic Rock ("Faking My Own Suicide") to as close as they come to real Punk ("Deviation And Reform"). It's all very entertaining but "Mmhmm" is the better Rock album.
"Forget And Not Slow Down" has Punk (the title track and "Part Of It"), pop ("Candlelight"), interludes ("Oasis" and "Outro") and DOA ballads ("Baby" and "Flare"). "If You Believe Me" is Punk with a dash of pop while "I Don't Need A Soul" is pop cut with Punk. Within those parameters is where "Forget And Not Slow Down" usually lands.
Doing covers is risky business. The whole purpose is to bring something unique to the songs - when perhaps there isn't anything to add (or subtract). Relient K take a stab at it with "Is for Karaoke." There's Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" and Justin Bieber's "Baby." They aren't necessarily better than the originals but they are different. There's also a note-for-note rendition of "Everybody Wants To Rule The World."
"Pt. 2" goes the faithful rendition route even more predominately ("One Headlight,""Africa" and "You're The Inspiration"). As a result, Relient K sound like a second rate casino covers band.
Even after a four year absence, there's no rust on Relient K. "Collapsible Lung" opens with "Don't Blink" and "Boomerang," two uptempo gems that clearly illustrate the group's major strength - dead-on power pop.
They go Reggae-lite on "Can't Complain," a song with the line "life is gonna suck some days" but despite that, everything's going to be fine. They demonstrate their song craft on "When You Were My Baby," which could be a Wallflowers track.
In the end though, it's a handful of power chords and a tight rhythm section, very prevalent on "PTL," "Disaster" and "Sweeter," that rev up "Collapsible Lung."