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  • Ben Province

DC Talk's 'Supernatural' Turns 20

In 1997, DC Talk beat the odds. The Christian rock trio's single "Just Between You and Me" cracked the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The track, which was originally released on 1995's "Jesus Freak" LP, became the 29th song in the US.

"Freak," an album that contains blatant Christian themes, had produced something with serious mainstream appeal. Forefront Records (a Christian label) had initially released the album, but after Virgin Records saw something special about the record, they wanted in, and would later distribute "Jesus Freak." They added the word "Just" to the song that was titled "Between You and Me" on the record, took out the most spiritual part of the song (the bridge) and had a hit with a Christian song (no easy task).

The band's album, its magnum opus, would be certified double platinum, and three years later the follow-up would be released. Trying to recapture the success of an album like "Jesus Freak" would be no easy task.

Kevin Max, Toby Mac and Michael Tait started writing the "Supernatural" album while in France during a writers workshop, according to Max, writing "It's Killing Me," "My Friend (So Long)" and "Into Jesus." These writing sessions took place at Miles Copeland III's chateau (Stewart's brother and manager of the Police). Max mentioned the the rest of the songs on the record were written back in Nashville, Tenn., where the band lives.

Regardless of which continent they were on, the three worked as co-writers (along with other writers) for each song on the album (with the exception of the Max's spoken word piece, "There is a Treason at Sea"), which they had never done before.

On Sept. 22, 1998, "Supernatural was released (by Virgin and Forefront) to the masses, and it was clear this would be a different album than its predecessor. "Jesus Freak" featured rap-rock elements on nearly every track, while "Supernatural" is almost completely free of hip-hop elements. The band was moving in a new direction, but not a bad one.

The record features more of a cleaner-sounding, less-grunge-influenced brand of pop-rock, perhaps, stylistically, holding up even better than its predecessor. It doesn't feature quite as many standout tracks as "Jesus Freak," but it's close.

The album peaked at the number four spot on the Billboard 200 chart, 14 spots higher than "Freak" reached. Given the push from Virgin's distribution, Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone posted reviews, giving "Supernatural" scores of B- and three stars, respectively. The LP would go on to platinum status.

However, no commercial singles were released (promotional radio singles and music videos were, though), despite the fact that "My Friend (So Long)" is considered as one of the best songs in the band's discography by Max. The track was certainly not as accessible as the soulful pop song, "Just Between You and Me." Instead, it featured an unusual chord structure, a key change and crunchy power chords in the verse that are followed by a bordering-on cabaret chorus. (Not to mention that the bridge sounds heavily influenced by Pink Floyd's "Breathe.") And I wouldn't have it any other way. You can't pin DC Talk down to one style.

They didn't make an album with 12 "Between You and Me"s, and they could have. Instead, they continued to blend genres and stay true to who they were, both creatively and spiritually, despite being presented as a Christian and mainstream act (to an extent). They didn't really compromise, and, again, they could have.

20 years later, it's becoming more clear "Supernatural" will remain the final album. The band announced that they were taking a break, while releasing a compilation album, "Intermission: The Greatest Hits" in 2000. The release featured two new songs, "Chance" and "Sugarcoat It." The trio released "Let's Roll" in 2001 on a compilation album, "Atmosphere (Remix)" (2004) and "Love Feels Like" (2015) on Tobymac albums and a cover of Prince's "The Cross" (2007) on a Kevin Max album, but have not recorded new material, otherwise, since the intermission.

But if "Supernatural" is the last album, I can proudly say that my favorite band left me wanting more.


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