Review Summary: Immensely improved from their first album, Anatomy is hit-or-miss with more hits than misses.
There are a few schools of thought about which Relient K album is their best.
None of them, I don't think, pick this one.
Nonetheless, The Anatomy of Tongue in Cheek is a marked improvement from the band's self-titled debut and an important step in the band's evolution. Most of the songs are hit-or-miss, but enough of them hit for this album to be a worthwhile purchase if you're into this type of light pop-rock.
The album kicks off with a couple of the catchiest songs the band has written. After the forty-second intro -- which effectively announces that Relient K has stepped up their fast guitar and excellent vocal harmonies -- is Pressing On, one of the best songs on the album. It's a huge improvement in songwriting to just about anything on their debut. Along with being upbeat and hooky, the lyrics are clever and abstract enough to be relevant to anyone.
If the first two songs didn't reveal how fast the band was improving, then Sadie Hawkins Dance did. From the intro to the "Oh oh oh..." to the breakdown about a minute and a half in, the song is a step up in songwriting structure and creativity. Unfortunately, the song has a few duds for lines: "She said you're cool / And smooth with talking" and "Since I'm rather smart and cunning / I took off down the next hall running" comes to mind.
The next few cuts -- Down in Flames, Maybe It's Maybelline, Breakdown, Those Words Are Not Enough -- are just good enough to keep the momentum of the first two tracks going. Honestly, with these songs, RK almost
got it right. They're sorta catchy, but not nearly as insightful as the band's best efforts.
We do get their best effort with For the Moments I Feel Faint. It remains one of the band's best ballads. It's simple, uplifting, and beautifully backed with strings. Though it's one of the band's directly Christian songs, it drops the J-bomb very delicately and in the best way.
Unfortunately, the album degrades from there. We get Lion-O, the first use of campy culture references that plagued their previous album. What Have You Been Doing Lately is surprisingly judgmental from a normally empathic and compassionate band and leaves a bad taste.
May the Horse Be With You might be the weakest song on the album. At least the band is trying to be clever with its references. It just feels forced, though. Some solid vocal harmonies can't overcome an annoying melody and gag-inducing puns.
After hitting rock bottom, it finishes strongly. The Rest is Up To You channels the almost-there album tracks from the first half of the album but My Way or the Highway is a cut above them with some very satisfying hooks and lyrics.
Finally, we hit the peak of the album: the final couple tracks. Failure to Excommunicate is throws in some modern rock vibes but balances with some more string backing. The song, like "real" music does, progresses from idea to idea yet feels cohesive.
Less is More, following an entire guitar-driven pop album, slows down, replaces the guitar with a piano, and packs a major wallop. It's a perfect way to end the album and hints at the emotional resonance the band would pick up in later albums.
Overall, Anatomy of Tongue In Cheek is a good-almost-great album that is the first time we see the true musical chops of Relient K. It's long and filled with easily-likable numbers. There's enough variety and thought in the lyrics to keep a listener coming back.
I only rate it .5 above their first album, but it's a hard-earned half point. Give it a shot.