Reviewed by Tony Cummings
Another in the value-for-money double CDs being released by EMI CMG offering a fresh chance to catch up on the CCM hit back catalogue of Toby Mac (or McKeehan as he was then), Kevin Max (or Smith, ditto) and Michael Tait. The trio had previously released two patchy albums by the time 'Free At Last' came out in 1992. It was this album which effectively changed the world of contemporary Christian music. With six huge hits that didn't even include what ultimately became the album's best known track (the opener "Luv Is A Verb"), rap music, or at least dc Talk's pop hook version of it, took over the US Christian radio airwaves. Where before rap and hip-hop had been non-existent on US Christian radio, 'Free At Last' made the conservative radio gatekeepers rethink their prejudiced policy. Of course it helped hugely that 'Free At Last' was absolutely crammed full of memorable melodies and sparkling production. "That Kinda Girl" is a rap tribute to a righteous Proverbs 31-type woman, the memorable title track complete with Martin Luther King samples and a chorus wailed by Veronica Petrucci (of Angelo & Veronica) is a delight and the slow and sombre "The Hard Way" which was to come alive with the group's most memorable video, shot in a prison, is a superb song. The killer is of course their cover of the Doobie Brothers' "Jesus Is Just Alright" which had the inspired production choice of a sample from Madonna's "Vogue". If 'Free At Last' is a CCM classic, 1998's 'Supernatural' is slightly less so, despite it too going platinum. Because it was the first studio album after their 1995 epic 'Jesus Freak', perhaps too much was expected. Certainly 'Supernatural' never scaled the heights of 'Free At Last' or "Jesus Freak' but it's still a fine pop rock album and if a tad formulaic in sound contains four songs that are among the group's best ever. One of them was "My Friend (So Long)". Even the staunchly anti-Christian music Rolling Stone mag enthused "if the sweet Raspberries-style harmonies in the song don't make these missionaries a few converts, then the rebel yelling at the end should." The other gems are the surf-rock-tinged "Since I Met You", the beautiful, worshipful "Into Jesus" and a full tilt rocking title track which the Encyclopedia Of Contemporary Christian Music claimed had "the intensity of Steppenwolf's 'Born To Be Wild'." So overall, there's enough timeless classics on this Two For One compilation to make any award less than 10 squares pretty mean.
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