Relient K is having an identity crisis. Every Christian kid has one. Gone are the power chords of their early work, the chamber flourishes of their late-career albums, and, perhaps most conspicuously, all but one reference to their Christian faith. Matt Thiessen and company, long beloved for their wide-eyed innocence and mischievous sense of humor, are barely recognizable on Collapsible Lung, a record frontloaded with generic dance-pop tracks co-penned by associates of Lady Gaga, Cee Lo Green, and Bruno Mars.
Call it Switchfoot Syndrome: as commercial viability rises, references to faith are obfuscated, then excised completely. The men of Relient K have not completely forsaken their Savior on Collapsible Lung, but they’ve traded their trademark songs about faith’s joys and struggles for synth-heavy tracks about casual sex and barhopping.
“PTL”, for example, finds Thiessen channeling Michael Angelakos’ falsetto to lament a one-night stand. Meanwhile, the grating “Lost Boy” collapses beneath the weight of its Maroon 5 influences. Side A’s saving grace is “Can’t Complain”, an upbeat ditty that transcends its Self-Help 101 lyrics with a breezy, tropical vibe that feels like a Relient K song, even if it doesn’t sound like one. Side B fares much better thanks to “Sweeter”, a twangy ballad with country leanings, and the title track, which finds Thiessen convalescing from the hedonism of that which came before.
Like it or not, Relient K was always at its best when directing its gaze skyward. Past hits like “Be My Escape” and “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” benefit from the band’s heartfelt, nuanced take on redemption and other matters of the soul. Collapsible Lung, however, is weighted down by a parade of faceless women, many of whom are reduced to mere sexual objects, resulting in a record that reeks of adolescent rebellion at best and pandering at worst.
“I hope I haven’t heard the last words from the Holy Ghost,” Thiessen sings on “Collapsible Lung”, marking the album’s sole reference to the Holy Trinity. I hope not, too.
Essential Tracks: “Collapsible Lung”, “Can’t Complain”