One of the funny things about pop music is how “pop” is no longer shorthand for “popular.” Bands that don’t get any radio play and have a fan base of two screaming girls can write pop music. Now, when we say that something is pop, or poppy, we usually mean “this is fun and easy to listen to,” or maybe, “this is bland.” When I say that something is poppy, I rarely mean it in a good way. Pop is like soda-pop. It’s sugary sweet, easy to consume, addictive, nutrition-empty, and makes you feel sick to the stomach if you’ve had too much.
The soda analogy doesn’t hold up, though, because sometimes pop music is really good, like Hellogoodbye’s album Would It Kill You or Fun.’s Aim and Ignite. While enjoyable on a purely base level, those albums are also filled with inventiveness and wild, energetic talent. Neither album was particularly popular outside of underground circles, though Fun. has since exploded with their most recent and far more boring album. This is just to say that pop can be done right, but rarely by anyone popular enough to hear on the Top 40 charts, which is why it’s interesting that we still call it “pop.”
Another interesting thing about pop is how absolutely awful, gut-wrenching crap gets on the radio all the time. For instance, Will.I.Am has been writing the same song for the past decade and has managed to get each piece of mind-slaughter into my ears. His most recent attempt with Britney Spears, “Scream and Shout,” contains his most gleefully wretched lyrics and some of his laziest melodies that sound like the scrapped ideas of a 13-year-old boy singing in the shower. How he and the Black Eyed Peas got picked from the slough of musical dumpings that the pop machine churns out, I don’t know. Maybe his foray into coding will distract him and we won’t have to hear about his awesome parties for a few more years.
Anyways, Relient K wrote a pop album in the form of Collapsible Lung; not awful pop, like Will.I.Am, or great pop, like Hellogoodbye — just generic, run-of-the-mill pop. I’m not really sure why. Maybe they were hoping that these catchy tunes would put them back on the charts again, like “Sadie Hawkins Dance” and “Be My Escape” have done so many years ago, but any hope of that has since passed. In terms of popularity, Collapsible Lung has left them in no better a place than they were with their previous album Forget and Not Slow Down.
If you know me, you know that I consider Forget and Not Slow Down to be one of the greatest break-up albums of all time, no competition. They had a poppy edge on that album, as all of their stuff has, but it wasn’t just straight “pop.” Truly, the album transcended all genre barriers, and in the end I can only think of it as one last love letter from the lead singer to the woman that left him heart-broken. It was intense, emotional, honest, forgiving, and musically the most superb thing Relient K has ever put out.
I can’t say any of that for Collapsible Lung, which on all accounts was just bland. It was like macaroni without the cheese. Every single song sounds like a rip-off of some band off the pop charts, like Bruno Mars, or One Direction, or (*puke*) Train. The sounds are so similar that I would almost say Relient K was intentionally trying to sound like them and not necessarily themselves. Following one of my favorite albums of all time, this was perhaps the biggest musical disappointment of my life. Instead of the Forget and Not Slow Down II I would have been happy to settle for, I got Relient K does WOW.
I read a review by some kid who said that the last song on the album, eponymously titled “Collapsible Lung,” makes up for all the crap that comes before it. You see, he says, the song “Collapsible Lung” is about the road to redemption and the pitfalls along the way. All of the other songs were supposed to sound bland and poppy — they were the pitfalls — and “Collapsible Lung” is the only song of truth.
But that doesn’t make all of the pitfalls fun to listen to. I mean, would you rather drink soda from a fresh cup or from a used one from the bottom of the trash? Relient K failed to make a good pop album, only succeeding in proving that most pop music is awful garbage.
Will Montei is currently in pursuit of a Masters in Teaching at Seattle Pacific University. He has been writing for the post calvin since it began in 2013.