Choosing my favorite Relient K album is like choosing my favorite flavor of cheesecake. They all have their own distinctive touch, but they're all made from the same basic goodness. Yet when I saw people declaring MMHMM as one of the best pop punk albums of the decade, I decided that I agreed with their sentiments. Relient K is perhaps the only band that has grown with me and my musical tastes over the years, from the cheesy junior high pop punk of the Anatomy… days all the way up to this year's college-esque post-punk folk-indie Forget And Not Slow Down. But if everything I love about them could be constrained to a single album, it would be the one that represents the pinnacle of their storied career: the Relient K that started to leave behind the sillier aspects and mature both lyrically and musically, but before the lineup started changing and becoming a sort of super-band of former Christian rock bands.
Dave Douglas spanned four albums keeping a steady beat for Relient K as their drummer, but if you really pay attention to Anatomy and Two Lefts, it's almost comical how much he relies on the simple, classic kick-snare kick-snare over and over and over again…. pretty much every song has the exact same drum beat…. the entire time! But in MMHMM we start to see some growth as a musician. Woah… is that a tom roll on the pre-chorus? Is that a wood-click? Do I actually hear a high-hat rhythm over here? It probably helped that Matt Thiessen's songwriting was also evolving from simple pop punk anthems and power ballads into more layered and varied songs; I especially love the copious amounts of piano here (after this album they started touring with an upright that has been with them ever since). This is not to say that Douglas didn't still use the ol' kick-snare for most of the album, but we started to see some much-needed growth. (And the growth wasn't limited to his hands and feet, either. I'll never forget the first time I saw "Life After Death and Taxes" live and wondered where the vocals on the verse were coming from until I saw Douglas's turned head singing into the mic…. he lets out a couple screams on the album as well).
The songwriting on this album is also improved from Relient K's previous work. Initially I was disappointed at the lack of a hidden track, but I eventually accepted it as part of the new Relient K that was abandoning the super-cheesiness while still maintaining their clever and quirky side (don't forget the album title, after all). Lyrical themes include God's hope through personal failure, and encouragement to live a selfless life with purpose and without regrets. I still absolutely adore the live performance of "Which to Bury, Us Or The Hatchet" (banjo and all) that, just like the album, transitions right into the prayerful "Let It All Out," complete with a beautifully extended outro. Almost every song contains some insightful lines worthy of reflection or at least a Facebook status. "Life is now worth living, if only because of You / And when they say that I am dead and gone / It won't be further from the truth…"
The radio loved a couple singles off this album and it probably remains their most popular to date. I'm glad Relient K didn't stop here and keep floating down the currents of mainstream pop punk (especially with the adoption of screaming), and while their more recent layered acoustical stuff still pulls on my heart, it's not the same as my classic Relient K. Dave Douglas is gone. Original bassist Brian Pittman has been gone for even longer, and the band now features former members of Ace Troubleshooter and the O. C. Supertones, and a guitarist who toured with Audio Adrenaline. MMHMM will always be the highlight for me - that band with the catchy songs, cool piano riffs, clever wordplay, and hopeful lyrical themes, all of which combine to make me happy and content… and when it comes to music, what else can you really ask for?