Relient K is a difficult band to summarize in a few sentences. In the eighteen years that these Christian punks have been rocking and writing, they’ve changed, evolved and matured with each new release. When the wave of punk-pop began to recede in the ocean of Christian contemporary music and many of the bands that were once at the forefront of the movement began to fade into obscurity, Relient K remained, continuing to change and experiment while staying true to their original creative spirit. Not many of their contemporaries can claim as much.
When Relient K first got their feet off the ground with the help of Toby Mckeehan, I’m not sure anyone was entirely prepared for what their first few albums would bring to the table of Christian music. What the industry gained were songs about Marilyn Manson, Matt Theissen’s fictional crush on Nancy Drew, comparisons between a car and mental breakdown, college life and, as the band would later title their debut book, The Complex Infrastructure Known as the Female Mind…Oh, yeah, not to mention Jesus and church and stuff.
While their songs were goofy, ridiculous and reminiscent of nineties punk-pop acts such as blink-182, the brutal honesty of their lyrics and catchy melodies caught the attention of many listeners early on. Over time, their lyrics continued to mature, and with their gradual changes in sound and style the band begin to tackle bigger, more philosophical questions in their lyrics, climaxing in their albums Mmhmm and Five Score and Seven Years Ago, with tracks such as “When I Go Down”, “Devastation and Reform”, “Let it All Out”, and the eleven minute epic, “Deathbed”. However, after their 2013 album Collapsible Lung, a conceptual pop album about growing old and reminiscing in which Theissen brought in a team of mainstream songwriters, many fans were concerned about the future of Relient K, some going so far as to say that they had “sold out” to the mainsteam music industry. Three years later, Matt Theissen and Matt Hoopes, the two original and remaining members of the band, announced that they were working on their eighth studio album, Air For Free. Right now, I want to try to flush out some of the core themes and ideas behind this album by analytically examining the lyrical and musical content. Let’s do this.