RELIENT K – Is For Karaoke

What was the deal with everyone and their dog putting out covers records in the summer of 2011? Within the space of a few months there were a bunch of really high-profile covers albums released, and pop-punk/alt-rock band Relient K added themselves to the ever growing list with the release of their ‘Is For Karaoke’ EP.  A few months later, with the addition of some new artwork and a further seven tracks, that EP became an album.

Of the fourteen covers featured on the full-length release, the most interesting  is a take on ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’, which replaces the pop tones of Cyndi Lauper’s original with lots of muted punk-pop guitar chords.  The Wallflowers’ ‘One Headlight’ has a hint of Relient K’s own style too, as they turn up the guitars a little, but since they don’t stretch the boundaries any farther it’s a case of “play it once, file it away, forget about it”.  For everything else, though, it’s as if somebody’s clicked the off-switch on “creativity” and Relient K work their way through the rest of the tunes just  about as faithfully as they can muster.

If you’re going to listen to Relient K play works by Tears For Fears, Tom Petty and Toto with a workman-like, almost Karaoke disc clarity, surely your time would be better spent with the originals?  Even the band’s more left-field choices – ‘Interstate Love Song’ by Stone Temple Pilots’ and ‘The Distance’ by CAKE – have no real imagination behind their reconstruction.  In the case of the latter, they’ve even reproduced the trumpet sounds as closely as possible… Matt Thiessien’s vocal doesn’t have the slacker cool of CAKE’s head honcho John McCrea but, to give credit where it’s due, John Warne’s bass sound is quite cool.

Elsewhere, you can experience tunes by Weezer, Third Eye Blind and Nada Surf played without any sense of adventure; and there’s even opportunity to hear ‘Doctor Worm’ without any of the quirky, nasal charm which makes They Might Be Giants so distinctive.  For those who are still interested by this point, tunes by Gnarls Barkly and Justin Bieber are handled just as (un)imaginatively, while the bulk of Toto’s ‘Africa’ could possibly even be a karaoke disc, just with some extra guitars thrown over the chorus.

‘Is For Karaoke’ may be well played, but most of it is played so straight, it serves no real purpose.  It’s not bad – just hopelessly unimaginative.  Relient K have recorded some great tunes in the past (with ‘Come Right Out and Say It’ being a pop-punk classic), it’s such a shame they couldn’t stamp some of their own style onto this selection of cover tunes.   Still, for its faults, it’s still preferable to that Puddle Of Mudd covers record.

October 2011