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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

dc Talk -- Jesus Freak


A few weeks before Christmas of 1995. Youth Group Christmas Party. White Elephant Gift Exchange. The thin, square-shaped present everyone wants: dc Talk's Jesus Freak.
Well, everyone but me. I was too cool for school by that point, and Jesus Freak was what everyone else liked. I didn't try to win the dc Talk gift (I don't remember what I ended up with, but that's probably because it was candy, and I ate it before I got home). My sister received the album for Christmas, though, and I snuck a listen every chance I got. I think that's the difference between the current happy Christian me, and current bitter ex-Christian kids who also came up in the 90's. They had to sneak what they really wanted to listen to, and were forced to listen to dc Talk. I listened to pretty much whatever I wanted, but secretly wanted to listen to dc Talk. Nice.
Nearly seventeen years after sneaking listens, I can listen to my own copy of Jesus Freak. But at this point, do I truly want to?
Yes. The answer is yes, and for several good reasons, but maybe not the expected ones.
Jesus Freak was definitely the first breakout Christian rock album, but it really isn't a "rock" album, per se. Jesus Freak's hardest and most famous cut, the title track, is really just a watered down, yet enjoyable Christian-version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."  The rest of the album is more pop-rock with hip-hop undertones.
If I wanted a hard-rocking Christian album at the time, I could find it more aptly from many other bands.  Jesus Freak is not a classic because it rocks.  It is a classic because it is the first consistent collection of truly great songs by a Christian artist to fit popular tastes.  And if the songs are truly great, when tastes change, the listen-ability of the songs does not.
The very lightly reggae-tinged "In the Light" for instance, a Charlie Peacock cover, still works just as well today as it did in 1995.
In The Light by dc Talk on Grooveshark
It also doesn't hurt that dc Talk actually worked to craft an album. Jesus Freak builds brilliantly to the penultimate darkness of "What Have We Become," which has a wonderfully optimistic old spiritual song for an outro, and then finishes triumphantly with "Mind's Eye." I like adverbs.  Don't sue me.
If Jesus Freak had just been a collection of great songs, it wouldn't be spoken of quite so highly today, but the fact that it flows together so well adds to its legacy.
While Jesus Freak may not be perfect (I always thought "What If I Stumble" could have used a lot more pep), after all these years, it still holds up as a classic.  I don't even have to listen to it in secret anymore. It is currently sitting in plain view on my dashboard right next to Peter Gabriel and Sigur Rós.

1995 Forefront/Virgin
1. So Help Me God 4:39
2. Colored People 4:26
3. Jesus Freak 4:49
4. What If I Stumble 5:06
5. Day by Day 4:30
6. Mrs. Morgan 0:57
7. Between You and Me 4:59
8. Like It, Love It, Need It 5:23
9. Jesus Freak (Reprise) 1:17
10. In the Light 5:05
11. What Have We Become 6:08
12. Mind's Eye 5:17
13. [Untitled Track] 5:17

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