Supernatural. This was the album that followed THE album for a rock, rap and soul trio who defined an era in Christian music.
dc Talk’s fifth and last all-new studio project was released by Forefront Records twenty years ago on September 22, 1998. The ultra-popular group was coming off an album, Jesus Freak, that certified RIAA Gold in its first month and recently earned double Platinum certification.
To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the release of Supernatural, hop in our Rock On Purpose time machine to take a trip down memory lane and recall what was happening in Christian rock, how and why we think dc Talk saved their best for last.
Take a Dive Into Collaboration
Before Supernatural, the primary songwriter for dc Talk had been the hip-hop third of the group, Toby McKeehan.
After Jesus Freak, the band signed a mainstream distribution deal with Virgin Records in 1996, with the objective of getting their music out to a wider audience. For the first time, all three vocalists were a part of the writing process on every song with Supernatural. The result of the collaboration was a drastic shift in style, from a mix of alternate rock and rap to a pop/rock sound–the first record in which Toby McKeehan did not provide any rap verse.
Indicative of the fact that dc Talk was in the prime of their career, the early reception for Supernatural was impressive. It overtook Jesus Freak to set a new record for first week sales for a Christian release and debuted at 4 on the Billboard 200 charts.
The landscape of Christian music in 1998 was also starting to shift away from an era of rock-friendly radio to a preference for pop/worship. With the exception of Supernatural and the Newsboys debut with Peter Furler as frontman, Step Up to the Microphone, the majority of radio was captivated by softer tunes such as Avalon’s “Testify To Love” and Rebecca St. James’ “Pray.” Compare that to 1996, when Jesus Freak, Newsboys’ Take Me to Your Leader, and Jars Of Clay self-titled debut were dominating the Billboard charts.
This allowed songs like “Into Jesus,” “Godsend,” “Consume Me,” and “Red Letters” to gain significant traction from the Supernatural release.
Since I Met Jesus Freak, I Love Rock and Roll
That shift in the radio market did not prevent dc Talk from laying down some impressive rock and roll tracks on this record. Let’s take a spin through Supernatural to visit the themes and some of our favorite rockers.
The new musical direction and themes of both spirituality as well as wrestling with change is evident from the start with the fast-paced “It’s Killing Me,” a song about letting go of something that is tearing you up inside. The familiar voice of Michael Tait welcomes the listener as the trio takes turns singing through a verse before building to that familiar harmony in energetic and fist-pumping fashion on the chorus.
“Dive” is a slow but driving rocker with an interesting blend of electronic submarine-like sounds, thick and heavy guitars, and steady rhythmic percussion. This song carries a theme of leaving the familiarity of a lifestyle that we’ve become comfortable with and taking a plunge into the unknown.
“My Friend (So Long)” was written as a fictional story about dealing with the emotions and feelings of two remaining if one of the members left to pursue a solo career. dc Talk released a concept video for this fun single, which was filmed in a hospital in Tennessee around the time that Toby McKeehan’s first son, Truett, was born.
Another great song, “Wanna Be Loved,” was recorded live with horns provided by The W’s during the Supernatural Experience tour. The theme of diversity and inclusion is a familiar one across many of dc Talk projects, from “Walls” on Nu Thang to “Colored People” on Jesus Freak. At their peak, the band started a foundation called E.R.A.C.E. (Eliminating Racism And Creating Equality) for the purpose of raising awareness of racial injustice and bringing people from all cultural backgrounds together.
Among the best tracks, and demonstrating the vast dynamics that collaboration yields, “Since I Met You” is closer to punk rock as Toby shows off his vocal skills. The song is quite enjoyable lyrically too, with wordplay drizzled throughout revealing the internal conflict of pretending everything is fine but needing to rely on God to be made whole.
“You call me crazy, man you make my day
My state of residence was disarray
At every party and as far as anybody knew – everything was cool, but
The truth was bottled up inside of me
Since I met You I’ve been alright
You turn all my darkness into light.”
If “Since I Met You” is the ultimate statement that the boys still rock, the declaration that we’re still Jesus Freaks on this record would be “Into Jesus.” This anthem declares that, yes, we’re still believers in Christ, even though perhaps we’re making some music to reach a wider audience.
Finally, the title track. “Supernatural” opens with a bass part that Otto Price nails–he still crushed it almost two decades later on the Jesus Freak Cruise in 2017. In the second verse, Kevin Max reminds us all that he is one of the elite vocalists in Christian music (if not beyond) and that we are strangers in a foreign land.
“Beyond this physical terrain
There’s an invisible domain
Where angels battle over souls in vast array
But down on earth is where I am
No wings to fly, no place to stand
Here on my knees I am a stranger in this land.”
Sail Away on My Ship
“I am solo in this world of water
Only the tip of a sunrise visible
Like the morning light in a little girl’s eyes
I crave this freedom
I find it only in this little ship.”
Like “Alas My Love” on Jesus Freak, Kevin Max poetry closes this album. Perhaps the words above in “There is a Treason At Sea” are a foreshadowing as much as they are inspiration for the cover art for the album.
Fast forward twenty years to 2018, and Toby McKeehan is better known by his stage name of TobyMac as he continues to soar in his solo career. Michael Tait, after two solo projects and the starring role playing Jesus in Hero: The Rock Opera, joined forces as frontman of the Newsboys in 2009. Finally, crooner Kevin Max regularly releases music independently across a variety of genres from pop/rock to jazz. His most recent album, AWOL, is a brand of classic rock targeted to mainstream listeners.
Despite two decades separating us from their last release, the demand for dc Talk is still very high as they plan to set sail on the second Jesus Freak Cruise next June– and have hinted at a possible reunion on land at some point as well.
Supernatural showed us how dc Talk could successfully follow up the most important album of all time in Christian music, so a second act for dc Talk would no doubt withstand the test of time.