Review Summary: So much potential thwarted by poor execution.
Relient K has never been a band to deviate from their comfort zone. Poppy, sugar-coated, upbeat, and nauseatingly optimistic…sound familiar? That was the proven formula behind most of their early success, with Mmhmm
and Five Score and Seven Years Ago
marking the band’s highest critical and commercial achievements. Of course, the catchy-as-can-be hooks and Christian demeanor also helped to launch them. Songs like “Must Have Done Something Right” and “Be My Escape” may have been the opposite of groundbreaking from a technical or lyrical perspective, but they sure as hell nailed their target audience. The songs were happy
, they were fun
, and they were most importantly memorable
. With Forget and Not Slow Down
, Relient K opts to take a different approach; one that if executed correctly would establish them as a band with serious artistic ambition.
There is no doubt that Forget and Not Slow Down
is a step in the right direction for Relient K. They needed
to show a subdued side. They toned down their excitable, pop-punk oriented style and fused it with alternative rock. The guitar-heavy introduction to the title track, along with its crashing drums and intermittent verses, is enough to make that evident. The dark, edgy “Sahara” just might be Relient K’s most impressive song to date, as lead vocalist Matt Thiessen sounds more passionate than ever. The presence of guest guitarist Aaron Gillespie (of Underoath) is the driving force behind the song, and it adds a whole new level of intensity previously unheard from this band. The lyrics are also light years ahead of the dribble that plagued some of their prior releases, and in general, it just seems like the band is growing up.
Mission accomplished? Well, not quite.
Just like with any major change, Forget and Not Slow Down
is accompanied by growing pains. Here, those pains come in the form of Relient K trying to become too
mature and too
relevant way too
fast. For example, they awkwardly insert five intro’s/outro’s into an album that doesn’t need them. In fact the album would be better off without them altogether. Each one is just an elongated extension of the song, or in some cases, a brief introduction that mimics the ensuing track’s opening verse. This makes for a disjointed listen, which is surely the opposite of what they hoped to accomplish. In the end, the only thing these tracks really add to the album is length. The ordering of the songs is also questionable at best, with some of the album’s weakest songs placed in the beginning while highlights such as “Sahara” and “If You Believe Me” lay on the backburner. That isn’t to say that albums should be front-loaded, but a better balance would have kept listeners from dozing off midway through the cluttered experience that is Forget and Not Slow Down
In addition to the unnecessary filler and poor ordering, Relient K also occasionally falls back into the same traps that have always kept them grounded. “Candlelight” exudes overly optimistic sentiments, as Matt Thiessen exclaims, “She is a lady I’m the tramp” overtop of bouncy piano notes. Well, give Thiessen credit where it is due, he managed to get three tracks into an album before he reverted to cute animal imagery describing his love. But it sticks out like a sore thumb on an album that aims to dispel the band’s reputation as happy-go-lucky
Also, Relient K lost a good deal of their classic charm with this release. In the overall scheme of things, the music is still accessible, but not very memorable. “Forget and Not Slow Down”, “Therapy”, and “Sahara” are all extremely catchy and well-constructed, but nearly all of the other tracks are forgettable. The one thing that always made Relient K easy to love was their ability to craft song after song that would stay lodged in your memory for days after you first heard it. That isn’t the case here, in part due to their newfound direction and overall maturation. Luckily, this is something the band may be able to rectify in the future, and one can’t fault them entirely for not reaching a perfect balance on their first attempt to branch out of their comfort zone. But as the album stands, it is an enjoyable listen in the moment
that will go in one ear, out the other, and fade away just as quickly as you heard it.
Forget and Not Slow Down
is a noble attempt by Relient K to evolve. They succeed in their overall transformation, but the songs themselves are mediocre, unmemorable, and hidden between a mess of filler. As a result, Forget and Not Slow Down
feels like it is either rushed or incomplete. Despite the poor execution of some outstanding ideas, Relient K shows enough promise in their momentary highlights to give us hope that they are not done developing these ideas; and hopefully they will clean things up and reward us with something truly special in the future.