Review Summary: Much like when a child unknowingly drops his first expletive, all we can do with this album is find amusement in it and ask that they not do it again.
When I first heard 2009’s Forget and not Slow Down
I was living in Cebu, Philippines. My, at the time, long distance relationship with my high school sweetheart was looking more and more regrettable as time went on and I was becoming progressively more of an insufferable egoist. It is safe to say that Forget
came at the ideal time. It was an album which completely revolved around the theme of dropping the ball catastrophically in a relationship and - more importantly - moving on even though you’re the offending party. I was surprised to find that, even though Forget and not Slow Down
was an even further cry than Five Score and Seven Years Ago
from the pop-punk sound they had refined to near perfection by their fourth full-length Mmhmm
, longtime and new fans alike shared my sentiments. In 2009 Relient K graced listener’s ears with what many considered to be their most emotive, mature, and distinguished album, so hopes were high for the follow up. Nearly four years later, enter Collapsible Lung
Relient K did us the favor of telling the listener exactly what they’re getting into with the upbeat and optimistic opening track “Don’t Blink.” This is not a rock album; this is not a punk album. Collapsible Lung
is unwaveringly and unashamedly a pop album. Following “Don’t Blink,” is the fun and incredibly danceable “Boomerang.” “Well,” I imagine Matt Thiessen thinking proudly to himself “if this one doesn’t get mainstream radio play, time to consider a career change.” “Boomerang,” and the third track “Lost Boy” are obvious attempts at appealing to the radio crowd, but they do succeed in their intention of being slickly produced and catchy to the extent of placing themselves on an incessant loop in your head during menial everyday tasks. Unfortunately catchiness alone does not constitute musical excellence, especially alongside the rest of Relient K’s admirable discography.
The album gets more interesting with the synth-laden “If I Could Take You Home.” Thiessen, lyrically, continues not to say anything of substance, but musically there’s more here that’s deserving of your attention than with the past three tracks. It’s still very poppy, but it’s a more relaxed and atmospheric tune that makes for a unique listen. “Can’t Complain” returns the album to a mainstream radio feel, this time in something akin to the musical stylings of Jason Mraz. With the upbeat acoustic guitar carrying most of the song and Thiessen’s lighthearted vocals accentuating the attitude of his lyrics, “Can’t Complain” makes for an enjoyable listen, but nothing as memorable as, say, Mraz’s “I’m Yours.”
The album decides to take a turn for the strange when “Gloria” kicks in. None of the rest of the album, or any of Relient K’s albums for that matter, showed evidence of British influence (save their overt profession of love for Tears for Fears in “In Love With the 80s,”) but this song sounds like it could have come straight from the motherland, barring Matt Thiessen’s American accent. It’s a worthy enough track, but simply doesn’t fit in with the album at all. “PTL” follows up with lyrics about regretting an apparent stint of promiscuity and one night stands. “I never meant to be your Part Time Lover, then again I've never been a full time man,” Thiessen explains in what is, seemingly, the most personal and enjoyable track so far. A few seconds into “Disaster” one has to wonder how many times Thiessen listened to Dog Problems
and Aim and Ignite
before writing what could have been filler (but likeable filler, nonetheless) on either one.
The album closes with three of its strongest tracks. Specifically, the folk-infused, heartfelt, and heartache inducing "Sweeter" is the closest the album comes in ten tracks to being something more than lyrical cotton candy. This lyrical shift is continued and amplified in the closing title track. “Collapsible Lung” is simultaneously the most meaningful, uplifting, and musically enjoyable track on the album. Perhaps they should have saved it for a follow up release, because it’s possibly one of the best tracks the band has ever created.
No, my hopes for this album were not rewarded and my worries were not assuaged. Instead, with Collapsible Lung
, Relient K gifts us with the aural equivalent of a bag of potato chips: addictive, tasty, and fitting only as a snack. You won’t find the depth or honesty of Forget
nor the spiritual musings and unforgettable choruses of Mmhmm
. Collapsible Lung
will not meet you where you are emotionally and help you sift through the debris of life’s destructive mistakes; however this album may be the soundtrack to some of life’s more carefree and happy moments, and perhaps that’s all Relient K wanted.