Reviewed by Tony Cummings
This truly seems to be a golden age for Christian bands. Where once we had only the occasional U2 or dc Talk release on which we critics could affix the "classic" accolade, in the 2007th year of our Lord hardly a month goes by without another stunning example of faith and creativity colliding to produce great popular art. Now a band we Brits were once happy to, if not dismiss, at least regard as happy-go-lucky rock journeymen not that different from a thousand other units using the stereotypical pop punk template, have delivered a breathtaking audio salvo. In a nutshell, this is Relient K's 'Jesus Freak'. (You'll note here I chose to say 'Jesus Freak' rather than 'American Idiot' for despite "punk rockers become fully orbed rock band" similarities to 'Five Score', Greenday's witless Bush-bating on 'Idiot' for my money nullifies any claim to classic status). But I digress. I predict that in 10 years time the record company will be reissuing 'Five Score' as an 'Anniversary Edition' with slip case, demos and remixes extras and an indepth sleevenote from Professor Pop - Michael Rimmer. But even if such predictions fail to happen, this reviewer at least is convinced of 'Five Score And Seven Years Ago''s classic credentials. This is in part due to the additions to the band - bringing in a second guitarist has enabled the lads from Canton, Ohio to experiment with a broader musical palate with piano in particular adding a new dimension to those crunching guitar rhythms. It is also due in part to the production with both mainstream maestro Howard Benson (The All-American Rejects, Less Than Jake) and the CCM studio whiz who's guided them from their very first demo, Mark Townsend. Both rise to the challenge in taking the band's sound beyond pogoing popdom with an expansion of musical textures. But the greatest contribution to the team effort which is behind any classic, on this album has to be from singer and songwriter Matt Thiessen. Always a witty wordsmith and a composer able to locate telling hook gold in the mire of rock cliché, Matt has clearly grabbed the opportunity afforded him by Capitol Records recording budgets and mainstream marketing push to write songs that will connect to any discerning rock buff, church goer or not. So here you have the sheer, unrelenting exuberance of the first single "Must Have Done Something Right", the choppy rhythmed "Bite My Tongue" where the dampened guitar sound adds zest to the song's inherent drive; and "Forgiven" where a simple piano figure adds hugely to the riffing guitars. Long time fans of the youth group madcaps will of course want some signs of Thiessen's goofball humour and "Faking My Own Suicide" done with a cod country arrangement complete with pedal steel and a lyric recalling the movie cult classic Harold And Maude about a faux suicide plot to get the attention of his loved one, or "Crayons Can Melt On Us For All I Care" (a hilarious fragment) show Thiessen has lost none of his quirky ways. But where once puns and the surreal were the one thing that made Relient K a bit different from the thousands of other pop punk contenders now it's just one colouring in a full palate of emotion which runs from sunny romance ("Must Have Done Something Right") to important spiritual insight ("Forgiven") to an achingly honest plea for healing and redemption ("I Need You"). The album's stunning piece-de-resistance is the 11-minute long closer "Deathbed". An epic tale of a man dying of cancer reviewing his life - broken home, failed marriage and his amazed discovery of the all encompassing love and acceptance of Christ, such a theme could have been pretention personified in the hands of a bunch of prog rockers. Instead, utilising a sunny melody, a daring move for such a dark theme, and a piano-driven vocal which is one part Elton John, one part Ben Folds Five and 10 parts pure Thiessen, this is a melodic delight. And the swelling climax where swathes of cellos are followed by a guest vocalist - Switchfoot's Jon Foreman - literally plays God is unforgettable. Yep, another 2007 classic.
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