The Phantom Tollbooth

Artist:  dc Talk
Label:  Forefront/Virgin (US)/Alliance (UK)
Time:  14 tracks/ 56.52 min.

What is quite possibily the most hyped and anticipated album of 1998 is out.  Does it deliver?  I have to say "Yes."

I've been following dc Talk for a long time, having purchased every album in succession of release.  Stylistically, each record has been a deviation, however dramatic, from the previous one: from Beastie Boys hip hop, to Fresh Prince style rap, to a more refined urban hip hop, to the grunge bandwagon, to now.

While I could try to explain all of the musical influences that this record has incorporated, the best explanation I can give is that this record sounds very 1998.  Their last two albums, Free at Last and Jesus Freak, were somewhat behind the times when released, but this album, in my opinion, is their best record in terms of keeping up with current music trends.

Another rumor going around is that because dc Talk has signed to Virgin, they would be "selling out" and watering down their lyrics. Nothing could be further from the truth.  The chorus to "into Jesus" is a good counter:

 Hey you, I'm into Jesus
 Hey you, I'm into Jesus, oh yeah
 Hey you, I'm into Jesus
 Hey you, I've seen the truth
 And I believe
There are a lot of solid songs of this album, though I doubt any of them will do well on secular radio due to their structure and content.  From songs like "My Friend, So Long" with its sad lyrics contrasting with its peppy hum-along tune, to the highly dramatic, piano-driven "red letters," to the  guitar driven modern rock "fearless", with it's Beatlesque vocal harmonies, there is a plethora of solid songs on this album.

If you're one of the many long-time dc Talk fans, this album will definitely please.  This is easily the most accessible of all their albums, and easily their best yet.  The highly personal lyrics combined with the slick pop music is a instant winner.  The most anticipated CCM album of 1998 is now out.  So go buy it, because the hype is right on.

By Joe Rockstroh (10/28/98)

Yet another history making record for DC Talk, Supernatural entered the Billboard top 200 at number 4. Given their previous success, this was perhaps inevitable. It is sure to be a big seller for a while to come in the Christian music marketplace; maybe beyond. Unfortunately, the album follows something of a tested and tried formula:  slightly more restrained than the title track of Jesus Freak, but slightly more upbeat than that album's slowest moments.

The cleverest lyrical moment comes from "My Friend (So Long)," a song addressing various rumours of the members "selling out" and/or splitting up, but there's not much that grabs this ear. The first few songs sound very similar, and, to be honest, the word 'boring' springs to mind.

As singles some of these songs are fun enough that they avoid being too shabby, but the album lacks variety. This leaves me wondering how I'll cope with the endless repetition of this album's ubiquitous air-play.

By James Stewart (10/05/98)

An album as consistently strong, accessible, and fun as Jesus Freak comes along so rarely that it is not fair to expect dc Talk to follow it up with an album that exceeds such high fans' expectations. Nevertheless, they have very nearly accomplished that task with Supernatural, an album that is considerable in its own right.
Supernatural is to Seal's second self-titled album of "Kiss from a Rose" fame, what Jesus Freak was to Seal's first album. Ultimately more lush but less immediate, Supernatural proves itself with repeated exposure. Furthermore, whereas both Seal's first and dc Talk's Jesus Freak were buoyed by strong upbeat singles (i.e., "Crazy" and "Jesus Freak" respectively)--like Seal's second, Supernatural is an album with fewer super-hit-singles, but no throwaway tracks. There are still an album's worth of singles here. Freed to experiment and create art in the nearly virgin territory of alternatively-shaded soul music, both artists succeed by accomplishing something of the highest caliber in a relatively uncommon niche. Plus they sound great doing it!

Now on Virgin Records, dc Talk has (presumably) an even bigger budget, allowing them to add lavish amounts of admirable production. Consequently, you won't hear many other albums that sound this well made. The band Zilch is still backing up the trio with great funky alterna-R&B style. How many bands have one singer as good as this, let alone three? Whatever the amount of money they spent to make this album, it pays off in a superb signature sound that is still diverse but rooted in their love of both soul and more modern music styles. It is a hybrid worth hearing whose time has come.
Both new and old fans of the band concerned about lyrical content are in fine shape, too. dc Talk continues to adhere to the highest artistic standards while clearly communicating the essentials of our shared faith. The gospel message is clearly communicated and with such musical accessibility that dc Talk not only witnesses to their faith, but makes it seem absolutely attractive. Though some of the lyrical statements bear a seeming simpleness, they are all delivered solidly in the common vernacular of today's hip generation. Our prayer, therefore, ought to be that more and more listeners find themselves reading the Lord's "Red Letters" in the gospel, exclaiming "Consume Me" to the Holy Spirit, and ultimately "Into Jesus" as each of these songs declare.
If this potently groovy composite is what young people favor these days, we can all take hope. Given dc Talk's continuing high exposure, increasing numbers of people will not only have noteworthy music to enjoy, but hear the desperately needed transforming message that Jesus not only saves, He's just plain cool!
By Steven Stuart Baldwin   (12/6/98)