Review Summary: Happy all the time? Then you'll probably appreciate Five Score and Seven Years Ago. If you're human, though, you probably won't like this too much.
There’s an ironic moment in the liner notes of Five Score and Seven Years Ago
, Relient K’s fifth studio album, in which lead singer Matthew Thiessen – after writing clever stuff like “Thanks to the people I’m about to forget. I forget you most of all.” – gets around to thanking his girlfriend and writes, “Call me when you read this, and I’ll tell you all of the mushy stuff that I was going to put here.” Aw, that’s cute, Matt; but judging from the lyrics of Five Score
, it almost seems like there would be nothing left to say:
We should get jerseys, cause we make a good team / But yours would look better than mine, cause you’re out of my league.
All my life, I’ve been searching for you / How did I survive in this world before you / Cause I don’t want to live another day without you now.
Every second that goes by is one more second off my life / And it couldn’t be more clear / I’m literally dying without you here.
Even with recent lineup changes that boosted the Canton, Ohio band to a quintet, it would be a mistake to call Relient K a true group effort. As the sole songwriter of every Relient K track except one, vocalist/guitarist/pianist Thiessen is the clear vehicle behind this pop-punk band and as he goes, so Relient K goes. The band’s early albums showcased Thiessen’s juvenile wit and penchant for making spectacular puns about horses but also placed far more emphasis on the punk in pop-punk. 2003’s Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right…But Three Do
still found Thiessen more than willing to namedrop pop culture icons from years past such as Boy Meets World
and Tears for Fears; however, the humor was balanced with a “hey guys, I’d like to be serious here for a second…no, really” mentality of a frat boy who decides it might be a good idea to study a little bit before finals.
It was 2004’s Mmhmm
, however, that saw Thiessen and Relient K grow up in a hurry. Similar in tone to blink-182’s self-titled album, Mmhmm
was nearly joke-free, legitimately somber in places, and featured a great deal more piano than in the past. If Two Lefts…
was the frat boy sobering up enough to study for finals, Mmhmm
was said frat boy graduating and finding the real world to be no laughing matter.
But two and a half years later, Relient K reappears with Five Score and Seven Years Ago
and it seems as if Thiessen is in a good place in his life. Mmhmm
broke the band into the mainstream with the success of the singles “Be My Escape” and “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been”, and on top of that, he’s obviously found a girl and doesn’t seem to have any big relationship problems hanging over his head. Unfortunately, in the midst of all these good times, he apparently has no time for writing interesting music.
And that’s the problem with Five Score and Seven Years Ago
: it’s well-done and not a wrong note is hit during its course, but it is as bland as Paul Reiser’s humor and, with the exception of the opening and closing songs of the disc, takes absolutely no chances whatsoever, lyrically or musically. Deviating madly from the course Mmhmm
seemed to map out, Five Score
features none of the out-of-left-field piano segues or heart-felt and off-the-wall lyrics that its predecessor possessed. Instead, the band follows down a homogenized path blazed for them by the likes of The All-American Rejects and Motion City Soundtrack, sacrificing imaginative song structures for the gift-wrapped three-minute single. Howard Benson’s production is slick and, really for the first time, Relient K looks and sounds like a band in the big leagues. But that’s part of the turn-off of Five Score
; safe major-label material can’t help but come off as uninspired and unimaginative.
What’s worse is that Thiessen’s lyrics, normally outstanding, are no better than maybe above-average at best and downright bad at worst. “I Need You” carries a shockingly bad chorus to go along with carbon-copied riffs: “I need you, I need you here, I need you now, I need security somehow. I need you like you would not believe.
” Though the rest of the album’s lines are better than that, they remain so overwhelmingly positive and upbeat that you would think that Dr. James Dobson held Thiessen at gunpoint while he was writing the record. Only the album opener “Pleading the Fifth (A Cappella),” a Beach-Boys-esque tune about Abraham Lincoln’s death, and closer “Deathbed,” a sprawling 11-minute epic chronicling a dying man’s final thoughts, really show the imagination that Thiessen possesses.
Now Relient K has been called many things over the years, but unimaginative hadn’t been one of them until now; unfortunately, the label is deserved. Five Score and Seven Years Ago
is a rather large step backwards from the direction the band seemed headed in a few years ago and, worse yet, legitimately boring. And to a band that has sung about Sadie Hawkins Dances and speaking in gibberish, that might be the worst insult of all.
Come Right Out and Say It
Bite My Tongue