Relient K: Collapsible Lung
I am by no means one to be considered “qualified” for the writing of any sort of review; I am just a normal person—a kid between high school and college. However, I have been listening to Relient K faithfully since the very beginning, when the only title they could think of for their first full-length album was simply their own band’s moniker. So the fact that I have been listening to Matt and Matt’s music since I began to learn to write my name is enough to allow me to merely explain my thoughts behind their newly-released album Collapsible Lung. Also, before I begin, I would like to make clear that to call any music other than that which you create yourself “bad,” “awful,” or any other term of the sort is extremely bigoted; music is an art, and if one accomplishes what he or she has envisioned in their music—no matter what others may think—they have achieved success and have created something good. Others are allowed, of course, not to like it, but that does not make it bad. With this in mind, whether or not I, you, or others like Relient K’s newest album, if the band members themselves like it and have accomplished with it what they sought to accomplish, it is a good and complete work of art.
I had looked forward expectantly to a new original album from Relient K ever since their incredibly beautiful, heartfelt Forget and Not Slow Down, which was released in 2009. When I saw a Facebook post from Matthew Hoopes one day in 2013 speaking of a new album entitled Collapsible Lung, I was overly excited; I was excpecting another incredibly beautiful, heartfelt album—a Forget and Not Slow Down: Part II of sorts.
After listening to the new album yesterday, I was sorely disappointed and quite distraught. This isn’t Relient K, I thought. I thought this and even said it aloud not because of the dramatic change in musical style from punk and alternative to pop—for Relient K has always been known to change their musical sound between albums, within albums, and even within individual songs—but because of the lyrics. It is true that they seem watered down and hardly creative compared with the usual Thiessen standard, but this also is not what left me distraught (though, truth be told, slightly disappointed). What bothered me greatly, upset me, even angered me was the worldliness, the lack of eternal value, the lack of a focus on Christ which had been in all the rest of their songwriting for over a decade. Not only did the creativity and poetic quality of the lyrics seem watered down, but the meaning and underlying message seemed utterly drowned. Instead of songs like Wake Up Call, Those Words Are Not Enough, For the Moments I Feel Faint, What Have You Been Doing Lately?, My Way or the Highway…, Failure to Excommunicate, Less Is More, I Am Understood?, Getting Into You, Be My Escape, I So Hate Consequences, More than Useless, Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been, Life After Death & Taxes (Failure II), When I Go Down, I Need You, Forgiven, Give Until There’s Nothing Left, Deathbed, and their Christmas songs, Collapsible Lung boasts such shallow themes as sex, one-night-stands, habitual drinking, meeting girls in bars, and more. In fact, I had never before had to worry about those around me hearing the lyrics of my music when listening to Relient K, but yesterday, while mopping the gymnasium floor at work and blasting the new album over the large speakers mounted to the ceiling, Thiessen sang the line, “Baby, you look so sexy” and caused a group of children to begin laughing heartily and their respective parents to begin glaring at me scarily. I was, in all honesty, extremely hurt and felt terribly betrayed; I had looked up to Matt Thiessen my whole life as the ideal man I wanted to be and, in fact, had even posted a photo of him as my Mancrush Monday on Instagram just a week prior. In my hurt, disappointed, and distraught state, I posted to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and had many people show that they shared my very opinion and also felt just as betrayed.
Out of a sense of denial and a stubborn desperation, I kept Collapsible Lung playing on repeat for eight straight hours. Over and over again it would play, jumping from track to track like a seemingly drunken train with no true final destination. As said by Cortney Warner of Jesus Freak Hideout, the album felt “almost too inconsistent, and at times it [could] feel more like a B-side album rather than a collective LP.” The tracks seemed to have no flow and were broken and disjointed. The album was not the Forget and Not Slow Down: Part II I had been wishing for. Then, on the final track, after hearing the album play over and over again for hours without end, something clicked and everything came together for me as if I had been trying in vain to put together a puzzle without sorting the pieces into piles based upon the similar colors printed on their front. I began to sort the songs on Relient K’s new album in the same manner, and all but one track were together in the same metaphorical pile—the final track. Suddenly, everything made sense. The album was entitled Collapsible Lung for a very important reason—the very same reason the final track was in a different pile than all the previous tracks and was given the very same title as the album itself. All the songs before Collapsible Lung were actually meant to sound empty, shallow, watered down, broken, and disjointed, and that is what, ironically, makes them all flow together and lead into the final track—the true underlying message of the entire album. Four years ago, Forget and Not Slow Down was released; it was a concept album entirely about the terrible experience Matt Thiessen had when his fiancé left him. He poured his heart into the album and it was and is a beautiful, heartfelt masterpiece. Somewhere in those four years after its release, “between the miles of open road,” Matt sings on the final track of Collapsible Lung that he “lost sight of what might matter the most” and “stumbled into the great unknown.” The first ten tracks on the album display where he began to look for comfort and satisfaction after his engagement had been terribly brought to an end and also show the emptiness and brokenness in looking to such things rather than to the loving Father he had looked to for many years before. Track eleven, Collapsible Lung, is Matt’s confession—his plea to the Holy Ghost, from whom he “hope[s] [he] ha[s]n’t heard the last words.” In the end, I had gone from being utterly ashamed of Relient K’s new album to being absolutely astounded by its blatant, brutal honesty and sincere beauty. In fact, it may quite honestly rank with its predecessor as my favorite of all Relient K albums. Collapsible Lung truly is the Forget and Not Slow Down: Part II I had been longing for—not only musically, but lyrically and in meaning and purpose.