With Five Score And Seven Years Ago - Relient K's fifth album in seven years and the follow up to 2004's mmhmm, the band's third consecutive Gold album - some are bound to ask, has the pop-punk band, ahem, matured a bit? Well, yes - sort of. While the new album isn't chockfull of their characteristic puns and concludes with an 11-minute, 115-track tour de force entitled "Deathbed," rest assured, Relient K has not lost its quirky sense of humor.
The first track, the a cappella vignette "Plead the Fifth," for instance, is written from the viewpoint of an 19th century man with an outlandish conspiracy theory about Lincoln's death and it features lead vocalist/guitarist/pianist Matt Thiessen using his mouth to simulate each instrument of a drum kit. "Crayons Can Melt On Us For All I Care," which takes longer to say than to play, is a classic Relient K goofball aside. And while the epic "Deathbed," which includes Switchfoot's Jon Foreman on guest vocals, has a somber setting as its title implies, the masterfully woven tale of a man's life and death brims with witty observations and aural ironies.
"I really love to not be serious all the time, even when I am being serious," says Thiessen, who likens the band's growth on Five Score And Seven Years Ago to Laffy Taffy. "It's the same flavor but we try to stretch it a little bit. It's still melodic, it's still rock 'n' roll, there are still a lot of dynamics. But at the same time, we're trying to write a bit differently, lyrically."
Indeed, the album is a departure for Relient K. In addition to the two story-songs that bookend the album, there are some love songs - and they're happy ones. "I always write about what I'm going through and I can't avoid the fact that I'm just really happy and there are some good things going on," says Thiessen.
The elation is palpable on "The Best Thing," which veers giddily between majestic piano flourishes and punked-out bliss delivered at breakneck speed. And the happy state of mind lights up the exuberant first single "Must Have Done Something Right" as well. "This song represents something that I've wanted to create for a long time," explains Thiessen. "It's not a political commentary or a tear jerking emotion-piece, it's just a feel good, fun song. Written at 3 a.m. with a smirk on my face, the song turned out to be something that you can tap your foot and smile to." Infatuation is viewed through a fisheye lens in "Faking My Own Suicide," wherein the narrator (with a wink and a nod to the classic 1970's comedy Harold and Maude) fantasizes about faking a suicide attempt to gain the attention - and affection - of his dream girl.
But Five Score And Seven Years Ago is more than an intriguing mix of light and dark humor. Tracks like "Devastation And Reform," "Bite My Tongue" and "Up And Up" pick up where mmhmm's "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been" left off. Classic literature from Aristotle on has made much of the tragic hero undone by his one fatal flaw - but Relient K has always been more interested in the everyman who messes up in a myriad of smaller ways. "We're all doomed to make mistakes and to try to recover," says Thiessen. "But I prefer to look at it from the positive, and refer to it as a grace kind of thing." Thus self-loathing is pushed aside in favor of redemption and the promise offered by each new day.
Five Score And Seven Years Ago marks Relient K's first full-length album featuring bassist John Warne and Jon Schneck - although the two appeared on the band's Apathetic EP, released in late 2005. With original guitarist Matt Hoopes and drummer Dave Douglas completing the lineup, Relient K is now a quintet with each of the members contributing vocals. The backing harmonies, stunning throughout, amp up the infectious "Must Have Done Something Right" and serve as an ironic counterpoint in "Deathbed." But the biggest change was in the control booth.
Relient K recorded most of the album in Los Angeles with producer Howard Benson (Less Than Jake, My Chemical Romance, the All-American Rejects). "I was honestly pretty nervous,"…
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