This is part 1 of the Relient K retrospective
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
One of the best arguments in favor of nurture over nature, Relient K transformed themselves from completely insignificant to one of pop’s most underrated bands not through luck or by accident, but hard work and steady improvement. Each album’s craft is better than the last, and the sophistication of the songwriting has been on a steady incline.
The band’s consistent effort has paid great dividends, but has not been without sacrifice. The slapdash silliness that defined the band’s early work almost completely disappeared by their fourth album, for better and worse. As they tread further down the road of experimentation, Relient K’s pop hooks have lost a bit of their immediacy.
Hailing from Canton, Ohio, the band formed in 1998 when Matt Thiessen and two of his buddies began writing simple pop songs. The three decided to put off starting a worship band, their initial goal. After a demo album and an EP, Relient K’s self-titled debut was released in 2000.
Generic and simplistic, Relient K is undoubtedly the weakest studio album the band has released. From the excessive use of cultural references — as if merely mentioning Marilyn Manson or Back to the Future is itself funny — to the bland instrumental performances and vocal harmonies, their debut had little to indicate the band could some day develop into something special.
Only a few tracks are noteworthy. “Softer to Me,” though its lyrics are a rather toothless lament of the challenge of just being alive, is more ambitious musically than anything else on the album, with a pleasant little guitar groove and some tempo changes. “K Car” attempts to give reasoning for naming the band (*) after a shoddy compact Plymouth (the explanation, a very Christian one and foreshadowing the band’s tendency for self-deprecation, is that “we’ve got a K-car on the road of life,” but “we’re gonna get far if the driver’s Christ”).
(*) Though the song gives justifies the name, it doesn’t address the misspelling. The car is spelled “Reliant K.” Whether the band has confirmed this or not, I’m not sure, but I’ve read on multiple websites that Thiessen and co. were concerned about copyright, which I don’t think would have been an issue even if they’d used Chrysler’s spelling. Oh well; it’s not like the band’s key demographic is likely to know what a Reliant car is anyways.
Overall, though, the fluff far outweighs the substance. Listeners are suggested to avoid this disc unless they want looking for insight into the band’s development.