Relient K – The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek (2001): We’re on to something good here


This is part 2 of the Relient K retrospective

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Taking the strengths of the debut — some catchy hooks and a cleverness in blending outright Christianity with secular themes — The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek is a big step forward for Relient K in every department. It’s not quite a good album, but it certainly set a trajectory for Relient K to reach that plane.

First, the performances by the band are leaps ahead of the debut. From the rhythm to the guitar to the vocal harmonies, Anatomy sounds like the work of professionals as opposed to four kids in a basement. The band sounds like it really cares about the music: subtleties (particularly in the drumwork) absent from the debut give these songs momentum and shape.

The songwriting is also considerably more intelligent. “Sadie Hawkins Dance” manages to be cheeky and nerdy while still endearing, at least if you can excuse the few dud rhymes (“She said ‘you’re cool and smooth with talking / Will you go with me to the Sadie Hawkins?'” — ouch). The best track of the album is “For the Moments I Feel Faint,” an impassioned ballad in defense of Jesus. Complete with strings and a falsetto coda, it could easily pass for something you’d hear on the radio if it wasn’t for the J-bomb in the chorus.

The band also experiment with a few themes and ideas here that are interesting if not entirely successful. “Failure to Excommunicate” proclaims a love for “the outcast,” which, if the opening verse is to be trusted, means illegal immigrants. “What Have You Been Doing Lately?” reveals that condescension is not a pretty color for Relient K.

For all the improvement, there’s lots of filler mixed in. “May the Horse Be With You” is one weak pun after another without much music tying together. “Lion-O” is an empty cultural reference that’s at least remedied with some interesting hooks. With eighteen tracks, there’s enough material to find spots where the band almost gets it right — the syncopated bridge in “Breakdown,” for example — then bloats it or mixes it in with mediocrity.

Thiessen whips out the piano and even the horns in “Less is More,” to very good effect. It’s one of the few tracks — along with “Sadie Hawkins,” “For the Moments,” the peppy “Pressing On,” and a couple others — that’s worth repeated listening on their sophomore album.

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