DC TALK was formed in Virginia in 1987 by Toby McKeehan, Michael Tait, and Kevin Max Smith while they were attending Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. The trio released five studio albums. The first came out in 1989. It was self-titled and included the hits ‘Heaven Bound’ and ‘Spinnin’ Round’. JESUS FREAK, their fourth album, came out in 1995 on ForeFront Records. It was distributed by Virgin Records in the mainstream market. The album hit No 16 on the Billboard 200 chart. Six of its seven singles hit No 1 on Christian radio. JESUS FREAK won the 1997 Grammy for Best Rock Gospel Album. Years later a tenth anniversary edition of the album (2 discs) was released. I will be reviewing the original standard version here.
‘So Help Me God’, a grungy rocker with Dann Huff on guitars, starts things off. The song admits that the Christian walk is not always the easiest: “Infected by the skin I’m in that’s starving with desire/And Jesus ain’t the latest thing to come across the wire/I throw myself at mercy for I am the chief of sinners/But daily taking up my cross/Has brought it’s share of splinters/You’re there when I call/And You’re there when I fall/Even though I don’t deserve it all/You, You light my way/Through the night and the day/And from You I will not stray”. ‘Colored People’ was penned by Toby McKeehan and George Cocchini. This pop song with a rap break is a direct attack on racism: “Ignorance has wronged some races/And vengeance is the Lord’s/If we aspire to share this space/Repentance is the cure.../We’re colored people and we live in a tainted place/We’re colored people and they call us the human race/We’ve got a history so full of mistakes/And we are colored people who depend on a Holy Grace”.
The unforgettable title track, ‘Jesus Freak’¸ was composed by Toby McKeehan and Mark Heimermann. Musically, it blends elements of soul, rock, grunge, and rap. Lyrically, it speaks of spiritual rebirth and its consequences: “Separated, I cut myself clean/From a past that comes back in my darkest of dreams/Been apprehended by a spiritual force/And a grace that replaced all the me I’ve divorced.../What will people think/When they hear that I’m a Jesus freak?/What will people do when they find that it’s true?/I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak//There ain’t no disguising the truth”. Larry Norman would later cover the song on his concert album SHOUTING IN THE STORM. ‘What if I Stumble?’ begins with a powerful quote by author Brennan Manning: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today/Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips/Then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle/That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable”. This mellow ballad finds the group worrying about falling spiritually and disappointing their fans and God.
‘Day by Day’ is from the early 1970’s musical ‘Godspell’. Toby McKeehan and Kevin Smith contribute additional lyrics. The song includes these words of godly desire: “Day by day, day by day/Day by day, day by day/Oh dear Lord, three things I pray (1,2,3)/To see Thee more clearly (day by day)/To love Thee more dearly (day by day)/To follow Thee more nearly (I got to take it)/Day by day”. ‘Mrs. Morgan’ is a short, silly spoken word track that has a lady complaining about the group’s loud drummer. ‘Between You and Me’ is a smooth adult contemporary number written by Toby McKeehan and Mark Heimermann. It broke into the mainstream market. This one is all about reconciliation: “If confession is the road to healing/Forgiveness is the promised land/I’m reaching out in my conviction/I’m longing to make amends/So, I’m sorry for the words I’ve spoken/For I’ve betrayed a friend/We’ve got a love that’s worth preserving/And a bond I will defend/Just between you and me/I’ve got something to say/I wanna get it straight/Before the sun goes down”.
‘Like It, Love It, Need It’ is an energetic rock song with a rap bridge. It finds the group speaking directly from their heart to their generation: “You’ll never find peace of mind in your pool of self/You’ll never find peace of mind in a sea of wealth/You’ll never find peace of mind in your rock and roll/You’ll never find peace of mind if you sell your soul/You gotta like it, you gotta love it/I know you need some freedom from the strife/You gotta like it, you gotta love it/I know you need some Jesus in your life/Some Jesus in your life (2X)”.
Next up is ‘Jesus Freak (Reprise)’. This short track has someone goofing around vocally off key with some of the lyrics from the title track. This is followed by a cover of a great pop song Charlie Peacock wrote in 1991 called ‘In The Light’. DC TALK’s version has Aaron Smith on drums and includes a vocal contribution from Peacock himself. The words of the song could easily have been written by the apostle Paul. They are some of the most vulnerable lyrics in CCM: “What’s going on inside of me?/I despise my own behavior/This only serves to confirm my suspicions/That I’m still a man in need of a Saviour.../The disease of self runs through my blood/It’s a cancer to my soul/Every attempt on my behalf has failed/To bring this sickness under control”.
‘What Have We Become’ is a soulful song. Jerry McPherson and Dave Perkins play guitars, while Dennis Soley plays flute. The lyrics ask questions many Christians are still asking today: “What have we become?/A self-indulgent people/What have we become?/Tell me where are the righteous ones?/What have we become?/In a world degenerating/What have we become?” ‘Mind’s Eye’ is a great pop/rock track. It even includes a short spoken word by Rev. Billy Graham. The message is one of believing in God sight unseen: “Life is a gift that You choose to give/I believe we eternally live/Faith is the evidence of things unseen/People tell me that You’re just a dream/But they don’t know You the way that I do/You’re the one I live to pursue/Can you catch the wind?/Can you see the breeze?” Track 13 is a hidden track of sorts that came to be known as ‘Alas My Love’. It is poetry set to music with Kevin Max Smith speaking these words about the arrest of Christ: “You see it was one man against the night/Taking on a multitude that had left Him high and dry/No candle burning vigil could light the way/Darkness hit the ground, like a fallen satellite”.
If asked to name the most influential albums in CCM history, many would say Larry Norman’s ONLY VISITING THIS PLANET (1972), Amy Grant’s AGE TO AGE (1982), and Petra’s BEYOND BELIEF (1990). JESUS FREAK is most certainly an album of this quality. It is like nothing CCM had seen before musically! It mixes rap, rock, and soul, with grunge music which was pioneered by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. It still sounds contemporary and relevant today. JESUS FREAK was a bold statement of faith, but also delved into social issues and societal ills. I’m rating this album a perfect 100% as I see no way it could have been improved! For more info visit: www.dctalk.com and www.capitolcmglabelgroup.com. Fans continue to long for a DC TALK reunion. Toby Mac is currently a solo artist, Michael Tait is lead singer of the Newsboys, and Kevin Max now fronts Audio Adrenaline.