To call mmhmm one of the more highly anticipated CDs of the year would be a huge understatement. Don't believe me? In select cities, copies Relient K's latest went on sale at midnight. That's how big it has become. Tracks from mmhmm have been floating around the internet (Mostly through PureVolume) for months in anticipation for the release. And for Relient K fans, the time has come.
But to fully understand Relient K's stock on Christian audiences abroad, you have to know where they've been. In 2000, Gotee signs the aspiring, punk-influenced rock band Relient K to their roster. Their self-titled debut is a little above average, and lots of growth is needed, but they found a hit in the form of a little song about Marilyn Manson. As they toured with the likes of the Supertones and Five Iron Frenzy, their fan base grew. In late 2001, they released The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek. A definite improvement over their debut, …Anatomy showed that these guys might just have staying power. More successful touring and an ever-increasing fan base gave everyone in the industry reason to pause. Who exactly were there guys?
But it really wasn't until early 2003 that everyone believed. Their third album, Two Lefts Don't Make a Right… But Three Do, was one of the better releases that year (arguably the best, according to some). They continued to mature on Two Lefts… and RK-vocalist Matt Thiessen started gaining serious praise for his clever lyrics that thrived on word play. It was, without a doubt, their career achievement.
And that brings us back to 2004, or more specifically, now. Fans of the foursome (Now a threesome, though bassist Brian Pittman did finish this album) have waited over a year and a half for. Is the payoff worth the wait?
mmhmm is different from anything the guys have done before. But that can be said of their previous two entries as well. While Two Lefts… took Relient K away from their punk-influence and started heading them in a more rock-savvy direction, mmhmm seems to be making an attempt to take the band back to a more punk-influenced sound. But this is by far their most aggressive work to date. Though things do slow down at times, this is an urgent, fast-paced release.
mmhmm begins with "The One I'm Waiting For." The verses move the song along quickly, but the chorus slows the song down and into a more melodic light. Matt Thiessen's voice has become more developed, and he takes more chances that pay off. Thiessen's songwriting abilities have matured as well. The song, whose chorus simply states "I'm still waiting for/ You to be the one I'm waiting for," is an outcry from a waiting Thiessen for a special girl to "…Stop putting so much stock in all of this stuff/ …Live your life for those that you love."
Even if somehow you don't appreciate Thiessen's songwriting style, you will relate to these songs. Perhaps that in itself is not that compelling, but the way Thiessen conveys the messages is enough to send a shiver up your spine. You sometimes have to wonder if this guy watched your life for song material. Two Lefts… showed his promise for this gift, but mmhmm fully utilizes it. A poignant, painful break-up is discussed "Which to Bury; Us or the Hatchet?," a track in which Thiessen screams (yes, screams) "No, I don't hate you/ Don't want to fight you/ Know I'll always love you/ But right now I just don't like you." And on "I So Hate Consequences," he states, "And after all of my alibis desert me/ I just want to get by/ I don't want nothing to hurt me/ I had no idea where my head was at/ But if my heart says I'm sorry can we leave it at that?"
But Relient K's signature wit isn't lost in the least bit. "My Girl's Ex-Boyfriend" credits him for the happiness that the band and a significant other share. "High of 75" uses a priceless weather analogy to explain the ups and downs we experience in life, "And lately the weather has been so bi-polar and consequently so have I/ …But now I'm/ Sunny with a high of 75/ Since You took my heavy heart and made it light/ And it's funny how you find you enjoy your life/ When you're happy to be alive."
The only thing mmhmm really lacks is that one stand out track to become the theme for teenagers across the country (a la "Sadie Hawkins' Dance" and "Mood Rings"), but any of the tracks on here could readily be radio hits. RK loyalists might also be a tad disappointed that for the first time, there is no hidden track (Where are our Skittles and Combos? Where is Emcee Defenseless? Where is the accordion player?), unless you count a twenty second "mmhmm" intro to the CD a "hidden track." And there is no sign of a "That was terrible!" But that is all nit-picking at what is a fantastic release.
But if you were to be pessimistic, the fact that there doesn't seem to be that much growth from Two Lefts… to mmhmm would present itself. There is growth, but it's in much more subtle ways than on past releases. This can most likely be attributed to the fact that Relient K had almost perfected their art with Two Lefts…, and mmhmm simply builds on what was already a very good thing, while tactfully experimenting with different sounds. Most noticeable are softer piano driven outros at the end of various tracks.
Unlike Two Lefts…, which was unquestionably their best achievement, it's hard to really decide whether mmhmm is Relient K's finest work to date. I suppose only time will tell. But as for now, it serves as one of the best releases of the year. Relient K fans will be left wanting more, but grateful for what they have been given, an mmhmm good next chapter in Relient K's stellar career.- Review date: 11/02/04, written by Josh Taylor
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