Just over two years ago now, Relient K released what could debatably be labeled their "breakout album." Devoted fans simply see mmhmm as another stellar piece of work in the career of a very talented band; but for those who had failed to take note up until that point, mmhmm was the final straw. It finally gained Relient K some much delayed mainstream attention, and gave the guys the face time they so rightly deserved. Even so, despite all the positive press they have received in the last year or so, they still fly under the radar. And now, seven years and five records into their career, could Five Score and Seven Years Ago be the one that does it?
The album starts with the goofy "Plead the Fifth," a short narrative about a man who believes John Wilkes Booth was wrongly accused of Lincoln's death, but up on the stand he, you guessed it, pleads the fifth. It's an odd, but funny opener, and leads into "Come Right Out and Say It," a song about not beating around the bush. Thiessen's signature wit is on full display and it is immediately obvious he hasn't lost his touch. The pop-sensibility of that track leads into the faster, more abrasive "I Need You," a simple cry out to God for security and guidance. Though the latter track is much more rock-oriented, it becomes immediately obvious that Five Score and Seven Years Ago is a much lighter effort than the somewhat dark mmhmm was.
The next track, "The Best Thing," only furthers the assumption. One thing Matt Thiessen does well is express himself, and it is apparent while you listen to this record that the man is in love. The first real evidence of that fact is found on this track, as Thiessen states, "'Cause when I looked into your eyes/ And you dared to stare right back/ You should have said 'Nice to meet you. I'm your other half.'"
It's a little puzzling, pin-pointing exactly what it is about this record that makes even the darker songs present here seem much brighter than mmhmm. Perhaps it is that the whole thing just possesses and overall pop-sensibility, and contains next to no punk flavor at all. The next track "Forgiven" is a dark, but ultimately redemptive song about, you guessed it again, forgiveness that seems like it could work on an even darker note, but is just too catchy to be thought of ominously.
This all leads up to the first radio single "Must Have Done Something Right." It is not only the catchiest song on the record, it's also one of the catchiest things Relient K has ever recorded. It serves as a fun, infectious ode to young love between a remarkable girl and an admittedly undeserving guy, "We should get jerseys/'Cause we make a good team/But yours would look better than mine/'Cause you're out of my league." Ironically, the fun of that track leads right up to the contemplative, somber "Give," "Yeah, I'll give, give, give until there's nothing else/Give my all until it all runs out/Give, give and I'll have no regrets/I'll give until there's nothing left." It's a sweet song, and one of the standout moments on the record.
Next up is "Devastation and Reform," another song that seems like it should be a lot darker musically than it actually is. It speaks of the way we self-destruct, and then make amends, and then self-destruct again, but not without thanking God for "giving me the insight/So I might make these wrongs right." It's a little more abrasive, like "I Need You," but the whole record just can't shake this pop-sensibility that works for it most of the time, but seems to hold it back on occasion.
The next track "I'm Taking You with Me," which is a fine example that Relient K pop-sensibility done right, leads up to another album standout, "Faking My Own Suicide." Thiessen's talented songwriting is at its finest on this Tom Sawyer take on relationships. The next track, "Crayons Can Melt on Us for All I Care," is just as witty.
The final stretch of the album, kicks off with "Bite My Tongue." I'm not entirely convinced that it is purely coincidence that a song about choosing your words carefully contains the wittiest wordplay on the album. From "And I'm sweeping up the seconds that tick off the clock/And saving them for later when I'm too ticked to talk" to "It seems I'm always close minded with an open mouth/And the worst of me seems to come right out/But I've never broken bones with a stone or a stick/But I'll conjure up a phrase that can cut to the quick."
The hopeful "Up and Up" leads to the album closer, the eleven minute "Deathbed." It details a man near his death, looking back on his life, both the good and the bad. It's quite moving, and keeps your interest until the very end. Jon Foreman from Switchfoot even appears at the closing as the voice of Jesus, taking the man home to be with Him. Let it not be said after this that Relient K is sugar coating \ their message. They never have, and never did deserve the heat they took for that. This record (Perhaps even more so than previous efforts, as they continue to mature), and everyone before it, show their spiritual roots perfectly.
It's another solid record, but for the first time since I was first introduced to Relient K in the summer of 2000, I find myself looking back in hindsight at all of their previous work. Not that this is any sort of inferior record, but after five albums now, its time to start evaluating where we have been and where we are going. Five Score and Seven Years Ago no doubt will bring Relient K even more critical acclaim, and mainstream attention. Though, it seems just a bit trapped in its own mold from time to time. Relient K never really was "punk rock," but for the first time in their career, they haven't even invited the comparison. Still, the fact remains, Thiessen keeps maturing as a wordsmith. You would think eventually the guy would lose some steam, but it is simply not the case. Five Score and Seven Years Ago goes down as another landmark record for the Canton, Ohio boys, and is easily one of the best of 2007, thus far.- Review date: 3/4/07, written by Josh Taylor, (PReviewed 1/17/07, by John DiBiase)
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