The band that was once America’s favorite contemporary Christian artist has returned, and much for the better.
A return to the group’s proper place, Air for Free is appropriately nothing less than a breath of fresh air. The band’s reputation for witty analogies, cutting spiritual challenges, and irresistible melodies precedes them. This new release does not quite reach the heights of Mmhmm or Five Score and Seven Years Ago, but it makes a valiant effort on it, and puts the group back on the right path, and not just musically. Among the album’s sixteen songs are ideas that are good and helpful, one of which is much-needed in modern Western culture: responsibility.
The opening track, “Bummin’,” is a good example of this. The electric melody and high energy is enough to get fans excited for a new album, but it’s the lyrics that should sharpen our attention: “You can be my spark in the dark/But if I’m out there acting the bum I’ll become one/So no more frigid nights in the cold/I would fall asleep in the lawn ’til the sun rose”
This isn’t an outlier on this album. On “Man,” one of my personal favorites, this is even more prominently displayed, with “Been lost at sea inside a house off Beachwood Avenue/I made a mess out of the life that lay ahead of me” and the chorus line, “Wake up, wake up/It’s time to be a man.” But perhaps one of the most lines comes from “Local Construction”: “Fix the car, fix the house/Fix the flaws in my self…Like local construction/It’s never done.”
Musically, there’s a notable shift here. The softer, almost singer/songwriter influence that was somewhat present on Forget and Not Slow Down (though not so much on Collapsible Lung) is ever more present on Air for Free. Aside from a few exceptions (“Bummin'” being one of them), the album is melodic, but smooth and relaxed. This isn’t always a bad thing. The rhythm of the title track and the melody of “Mountaintop” would sound right at home on a Walk the Moon album (which is high compliment coming from this writer).
At times, however, it does drag. Tracks two through four are all mediocre songs. Some tracks on the latter half of the album feel like filler, even if the style is enjoyable. As a whole, it is lacking an explosion of memorable pop melodies and singalong summer hits. But neither is any song on the album particularly bad. The album certainly has a cohesive and uniform sound to it, which is more helpful to the overall quality and likelihood of repeat listening than a series of unrelated radio singles.
I wouldn’t call Air for Free Relient K’s best album. I wouldn’t call it their worst, either. It has a signature sound that’s enjoyable, relaxing, and authentic, and, more importantly, it sounds like them. When I reviewed Collapsible Lung, I said that certain songs, particularly the track “Boomerang,” were a disappointing departure from the band’s past, revealing content issues which ought not be on a Christian band’s record. Their sound was also a departure in notable ways, and it really seemed like they were trying too much to be like other artists. With this album, I’m pleased to say, Relient K has made a step back in the right direction, and this is an album worth your time, if only for a listen once or twice through.