I remember the first time I heard a Relient K song. I was in early middle school. My dad worked with the youth at our church and had a couple of the older guys over to our house to choose songs for the next puppet ministry gig. One of the guys put on a CD to suggest a song– “Pressing On.” My dad said it was probably a little fast for puppets. I stood there in shock, with my jaw on the floor.
The best bands I listened to at the time were Audio Adrenaline and the Newsboys (the real versions– not the mediocre hybrids of today). They were amazing in their own right, but felt like they were from a slightly earlier era. When I heard this song, I knew this was music I could claim as mine. I shyly asked the teenager if I could burn a copy of his CD (don’t worry– I went out and bought it later). And the rest is history. You not only made me your number one fan, you opened my ears to a whole new realm of music, first within the Christian scene, and then beyond when in college I realized it was okay to listen to other stuff, too.
For the rest of my middle and high school years, I knew all the lyrics to all of your songs (even “Gibberish“). Nearly every time I listened, I reveled at the brilliance of Matt Thiessen’s witty turns of phrase, smile on my face and an air guitar rockin’.
I loved your music because 1) I could relate to the lyrics, 2) They were clever, 3) I could tell you had fun, and 4) The music itself was the coolest in the Christian market– by far. I think relating to the lyrics was the best thing, though. I just felt like Matt T. had a direct tap into my soul. Your fourth album, Mmhmm, will always be one of my favorite albums, because more than any other album by any other artist, it met me exactly where I was and reminded me who I was. It sustained me for years, always reminding me I was more than useless and always willing to be my escape.
Your music got me through the roller coaster of adolescence, cause theme parks are so much more fun when it’s sunny with a “High of 75.” I listened to “Getting Into You” every day on the bus for a year, and it refreshed my faith after difficult days at school. In times of joy, sadness, anger, letting loose, heartbreak, and needing to feel like I am understood, I could find a companion among your songs. My senior year, I went through a really rough time, and “Which to Bury, Us or the Hatchet?” and “Let it All Out” were my go-to anthems.
Five Score and Seven Years Ago was the last time I felt like we were on the same wavelength. Your next album, which released while we were college kids, was somber and though I’ve since come to appreciate some touches of bluegrass with my rock, it just didn’t feel like Relient K. I also learned about some poor decisions members of the band had made, and was disappointed.
The worst thing was not relating anymore. We were tracking together so perfectly for so long, even though you were years older than me, that it took my by surprise when Forget and Not Slow Down hurtled down a different road down which I swore I’d never go.
But I still had faith in you guys. Though you were no longer my favorite band, you were still my band. Unlike many of my friends, I refused to remove your old stuff from my iPod because we were “too old” to listen to it anymore. Bullcrap.
When your latest album dropped this summer, I was hesitant. I knew your sound had continued to evolve. And if you were going in the direction of the previous album, you’d abandoned a lot of what charmed me so much in the beginning. I was right on both counts, but what I was not expecting was the lyrical content to be so… different. There are a few great songs about life, love, and even some touches of faith. But the majority of the songs on the new album are about wasting time at bars and sleeping around. No longer can I relate.
Don’t get me wrong– I don’t have any problem with Christian bands “going mainstream.” And while it might take some adjusting on my part, I respect your artistic liberty to develop and transform your sound over time.
But when I listen to the message of Collapsible Lung, it breaks my heart to see how much you’ve changed. I’d like to find you guys, give you hugs, and tell you I will not dwell on what you did but rather what you do. There’s a lot more I could say about morals and role models and not abusing grace, but I think that’d just be inconsistent me, crying out for consistency.
The truth is I have no idea what’s really been going on in your lives all this time. Nor is it really my business. I know even my greatest heroes make mistakes. And you guys definitely fall into the hero category. Music has changed my life, and I owe a lot of that to you. You might not even care what I think. You have millions of fans, and you had to know you were going to disappoint some people with this record. I just hope that whatever made you want to do that doesn’t keep leading you down paths that will hurt you in the long run.
Maybe the point of including these elements in this album was to show the emptiness of such a life, sort of a musical Ecclesiastes. Or maybe you’ve got a mild case of Miley-Britney-Lindsey syndrome after years of feeling boxed in. Or maybe you’re just being real about who you are now and what you believe. A big chunk of our generation, even those who grew up in church, will have no problems with the content of your new songs. So maybe you’re just trying to keep relating, something you’ve always done so well. Whatever it is, it still makes me sad.
But I’m not done with you yet. One of the best things about having heroes is seeing them overcome. I just pray you’ll be able to conquer whatever demons you’re fighting– or trying to ignore. I don’t think it’s presumptuous to assume you have them, because we all do. Even if I can never relate to your lyrics again, I’ll be fine. I just hope you’ll be fine, too. And by fine, I mean finding your satisfaction not in all the stars that flood your dreams with their guitars and magazines, but in the one who can touch your heavy heart and make it light.
Well, I think I had a point, but I just got distracted. I guess when it comes down to it, I just want to say I wish you the best and thank you for everything, especially for always reminding me that the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.