Album Review: Relient K, “The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek” (2001)

I was first introduced to Relient K during my freshman year in high school and I fell in love. I was just starting to discover that “Christian music” didn’t always have to be serious; that you could worship God and have fun at the same time.
The Anatomy Of Tongue In Cheek is certainly an example of that. The album marks the band’s second full-length disc (released in 2001), and is filled with plenty of pop culture references and funny lyrics, but there are also songs that deal with realistic Christian themes, as well.

The album begins with Kick-Off, a 39 second introduction to the album. Though the song is a bit unnecessary, I have to admit that the lyrics (“Here’s the kick off/Hope you’re not sick of Relient K or all the songs we play/’Cause then you’ll want to throw our CD away.”) do make me smile. Next up is Pressing On, which was released as a single. Guitarist Matt Hoopes gets to play some fun riffs during the verses and chorus, but the song’s strength lies in the catchy chorus about persevering despite problems in life (“I’m pressing on/Pressing on, all my distress is going, going, gone. (pressing on, pressing on)/And I won’t sit back, and take this anymore/’Cause I’m done with that, I’ve got one foot out the door/And to go back where I was would just be wrong/I’m pressing on”).

Sadie Hawkins Dance is one of the most popular songs ever released by the band, and it’s easy to see why. Another catchy melody is paired with clever lyrics (which were written by lead singer/piano player,Matt Thiessen, who is also the main songwriter for the album) about getting asked the to Sadie Hawkins dance by the most popular girl at school (“The Sadie Hawkins Dance, in my Khaki pants/There’s nothing better/The girls ask the guys, it’s always a surprise/There’s nothing better/Baby, do you like my sweater?”). I’ve always been a fan of this song; I even used it during my senior year in high school to ask my boyfriend at the time to our school’s Sadie Hawkins dance. Of course, he said yes. After all, who can resist a line like, “You’re smooth, and good with talking. Will you go with me, to the Sadie Hawkins?”

Things get better with Down In Flames, which acts as a commentary on Christian society. Thiessen deals with criticism and Christian stereotypes during the verses (“Christians– we’re all afraid of fire/We prefer to suck on pacifiers/Baby pacifists, we’re throwing fits/We don’t shake hands, we shake our fists…/We see the problem and the risk but nothing’s solved/We just say, ‘Tisk, tisk, tisk’/and ‘Shame, shame, shame”). More guitar and drum work (Dave Douglas) give the song an upbeat rock sound, but everything is tuned down by the end of the song as Thiessen maturely adds that he knows he’s part of the problem too (“I’m part of the problem/I confess/But I gotta get this off my chest/Let’s extinguish the anguish/for which we’re to blame/and save the world/from going down in flames”).

Maybe Its Maybeline is another look at society in general, as Thiessen sings about how everyone is quick to blame God or other people for their mistakes rather than themselves (“We point the finger even though it’s not polite/We condemn the son of God (we’re hoping two wrongs make a right)/Maybe it is them/Or, maybe it is me/Or, maybe it’s Maybelline”). Though the song doesn’t boast a catchy melody or chorus like its predecessors, the honest lyrics (“The truth is, excuses are lame/Accept consequence/Accept the blame/We’re all sinners/We’re all unclean”) make it worth listening to. Breakdown picks the tempo back up, and is somewhat similar to Pressing On with lyrics about overcoming life’s obstacles. Again, the song isn’t as catchy as the ones before it, but the triumphant lyrics in the bridge about overcoming Satan’s influence are the best in the song (“He’ll seek and destroy everything that I enjoy/But, I won’t be the one he takes down/No, I won’t breakdown”).

Hoopes takes a hand at songwriting with Those Words Are Not Enough, which is one of the stronger tracks on the album. Though the song maintains the pop/punk sound as the others, the lyrics take a dramatic shift from being pretty light to a more serious matter. This time around, the song is written as a humble prayer (“I lay my life before You/And I’m not getting up/Father, how I adore You/Those words are not enough”), and echoes the sentiments that many believers have about God and our relationship with Him (“When it’s twice as hard to realize/That I’m still trying twice as hard to satisfy myself on my own/And I’m still waiting for things to change”).

Matt T and Matt H

Things continue in this path with For The Moments I Feel Faint, which is easily my favorite song on the album and one of my favorite worship songs, period. Production is stripped down to vocals and guitar, and the focus is entirely on the lyrics about looking to Jesus when we feel hopeless in life (“Never underestimate my Jesus/You’re telling me that there’s no hope, I’m telling you you’re wrong./Never underestimate my Jesus/When the world around you crumbles/He will be strong, He will be strong”). By the refrain (“I think I can’t, I think I can’t/But I think You can, I think You can/Gather my insufficiencies and place them in your hands/place them in your hands, place them in your hands”) Thiessen proves that while he can write silly songs like Sadie Hawkins Dance, he can also write genuinely moving worship songs.

Of course, in typical Relient K fashion, things turn right back to silliness. Lion Wilson is an a capella interlude (named for Thiessen’s idol, Brian Wilson) that leads into I’m Lion-O, a song about main character of the 80’s cartoon, ThunderCats. The song is quite goofy, but the singable chorus makes it fun and anyone that grew up in the 80’s and watched ThunderCats will love this song. Similarly, May The Horse Be With You is a wacky song about…horses. The song literally holds no real message, and is a bit immature at points, but it’s easy to see that the guys had fun with the track, and that matters for something.

What Have You Been Doing Lately is another upbeat track in which Thiessen reflects on friends who have turned their back on their Christian principles (“Pardon me while I throw up/I guess some people never grow up/What happened to the salvation you claimed?/It breaks my heart to see how much you’ve changed…/What have you been doing lately?/Your life could use improving greatly/I just wanted to know what’s going on, but everything that goes is going wrong.”). This theme continues with My Way Or The Highway, though the mid-tempo track is about making the right decisions in life before it’s too late (“Give it a go or throw in the towel/Stand all alone or swim through the crowd/No one around to help you decide/It’s time to make up your mind”).

By the end of the album, the disc has taken a very serious direction in subject matter. The Rest Is Up To You starts off with Thiessen telling the listener that we’re the ones that control our lives (“I know what you’ve been through/But there’s only so much one can do/Now the rest is up to you”), but the song slows down to a ballad by the end, and segues into a beautiful plea to Jesus when things just become too much (“‘Cause I know you’re hurting/So put down your burdens/Crucify your doubts and just reach out/Reach out to Jesus/Embrace Him/Turn your life around to face Him/You’ll find mercy/You’ll see/Grace, love, and beauty/Defined in His face”).

Failure To Excommunicate, besides having a great bass intro (Brian Pittman), is another well-written track that tackles racism and feeling persecuted. The chorus puts it all in perspective (“Jesus loved the outcasts/He loves the ones the world just loves to hate/And as long as there’s a Heaven, there’ll be a failure to excommunicate”), and anyone that has ever felt out of place can listen to this song and feel a bit better (a verse you can also refer to is 1 Peter 2:9, which certainly helps me out when I feel a bit different from everyone else).

The album closes with Less Is More a slow-paced ballad, which acts as another prayer about giving your life completely to God (“Jesus, I plead/Please purify me/Make my heart clean/Drench me with Your mercy/Jesus, I pray/I love You, I need You/For the rest of my days/I swear I will seek You/To the best of my ability/I’m practicing humility/And I lay myself before/’Cause less is more”). Again, the song seems strange placed against the more childish songs on the album, but the track is done extremely well and doesn’t feel the least bit affected or insincere. Around 5:56, a hidden track is revealed as Thiessen dedicates the song to the two loves of his life- Skittles and Combos. Yes, Thiessen wrote a song about candy and snack food. The hidden track, albeit short, is a cute addition to the album, and works to lighten to the mood after the heavy subject matter of Less Is More.

The Anatomy of Tongue In Cheek is quite a good album. Relient K has done a great job of creating fun songs, and ones that are sincerely about Christianity. Though things do become a bit too immature at times, some of the stronger tracks on the album balance things out, and the result is a fun disc that just about any teenager (Christian, or not) can enjoy.

Rating: 3_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Kick-Off
2. Pressing On
3. Sadie Hawkins Dance
4. Down In Flames
5. Maybe Its Maybeline
6. Breakdown
7. Those Words Are Not Enough
8. For The Moments I Feel Faint
9. Lion Wilson
10. I’m Lion-O
11. What Have You Been Doing Lately?
12. May The Horse Be With You
13. My Way Or The Highway…
14. Breakfast At Timpani’
15. The Rest Is Up To You
16. Failure To Excommunicate
17. Less Is More

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLNcsqHwoXI]
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