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MMHMM (2004)
Mmhmm - Click to view!Rolling Stone ran a cover story about Good Charlotte a couple of years ago asking, in less chaste language, just what on earth had happened to punk music. A genre that used to be, by definition, anti-establishment, anti-commercialism, angst-driven and pro-anarchy had somehow produced this, a band that didn't mind making money, liked seeing their videos on MTV, and was in heavy rotation on mainstream radio.

The answer, of course, is that pop happened to punk music. And though the results have been mixed (I could do without Simple Plan and Hawk Nelson), they have sometimes been heavenly. In some ways punk has never been better.

Exhibit A is the album that marks religious rock giants Relient K's entry into the mainstream, as well as their passage into musical adulthood. Oddly titled mmhmm, it was one of the better rock albums of 2004 and proof that punk's evolution hasn't been entirely unpleasant.

Perhaps what's best about mmhmm is what isn't there. Things like "Maybe It's Maybeline" and "In Love With the 80's," two semi-amusing but predominantly corny cuts featured on the band's previous two albums. Or interludes like "Breakfast at Timpani's," and preachy songs like "What Have You Been Doing Lately," which detracted from their otherwise stellar The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek.

Instead we get extremely complex tracks like "Be My Escape," mature ruminations on the consequences of sin like "I So Hate Consequences" and meditations on personal growth ("Who I am Hates What I've Been," "Let it All Out") which focus humbly inward instead of rebuking the listener.

Lead singer Matthew Thiessen has clearly come into his own as a songwriter, going well beyond predictable power chord progressions and over-used guitar rhythms, adding tasteful orchestral and piano arrangements and injecting more of his soul—and fewer cheesy jokes—into his lyrics.

Some may chafe at this—perhaps the soul of the old Relient K was those cheesy jokes—and purists will argue that mmhmm is about as much a punk record as Good Vibrations was a polka album. Still others will accuse the band of watering down their lyrics (ie. not mentioning Christ by name) for this, their first album marketed outside of the Christian circuit. But few with a knowledge of the band's past can argue that mmhmm represents a tremendous leap forward in their musical maturity.

Pop has happened to punk, as it has to metal (see Linkin Park), rap (Will Smith) and just about everything else. Songs have been lengthened from two minutes or so to a radio-friendly three. It embraces the things it used to rebel against and rebels against the things it used to stand for. But as Relient K shows us, that's not such a bad thing.
- Ben Forrest
April 2004
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