With song titles like “God” and “Prodigal,” both familiar words within the Christian community, Air for Free looked on the surface to be a much more promising release for Christian music fans. And while the album doesn’t include songs about one night stands, the way the recent Collapsible Lung did, this album won’t likely fully please the evangelical Christians that comprised the act’s initial fans.
Down to just two original members (Matt Thiessen and Matt Hoopes) Relient K continues to be an inventive rock-pop act. However, it appears to have left its pop-punk roots behind for good. For example, one piano-based song titled “Empty House” features Thiessen singing it all the way through with auto-tune, which is an annoying gimmick made most popular by Cher a long time ago and only made worse by innumerable Kanye West tracks. It’s a shame, too, because the song – about dreading a return to a home where the one he loves is no longer living there – could have been a truly moving work, had it be done straight.
The aforementioned “God” and “Prodigal” could be taken as ‘Christian’ lyrics, but would also work in just about any Christian or pseudo-Christian context. Perhaps the most spiritual song on the album, and one that hearkens back to what we loved about Relient K most, is “Local Construction.” This one speaks to the difficulties in trying to fix one’s personal flaws. Another titled “Runnin'” finds a nervous soul being advised to simply give his life to God, which doesn’t seem to give him — or us — any comfort at all.
Thiessen shows off his clever wordplay with “Mrs. Hippopotamuses’,” which finds him reflecting on his home state of Cleveland, and “Elephant Parade” that smartly utilizes circus terminology to make its points. It’s frustrating, though, to find Thiessen’s themes flying all over the place. Just what he’s trying to say with this collection of songs is a complete mystery. It’s a little like one of those rare bad Elvis Costello songs where it’s all creativity without a point. Thiessen wastes his lyrical and melodic gifts on Air for Free perishes in doing so due to a severe lack of vision.