Rocking Out For Jesus
Really, all you need to know about the cool Christian groups in the early 2000s is that there were three main groups that EVERYBODY listened to. Everybody. I liked them all, but here they are in order from least favorite to favorite.
1. Newsboys. They were definitely pop rock rather than rock rock, but they were still significantly cooler than any of the other pop I listened to. And they were edgy, because they sang the Breakfast song, which mentioned hell by name, which you weren't supposed to do in Christian music.
The best, most interesting era of the band was when Steve Taylor was writing their lyrics. Sometimes they got a bit too "look what I can do with words!" but some of them were fantastic. Take Me To Your Leader and Shine get my vote for most entertaining lyrically. A couple of their more overtly rocky hits: the re-recording of God Is Not a Secret and Cup O' Tea; some of their poppier hits: Step Up to the Microphone and Entertaining Angels.
2. Audio Adrenaline. Their 1999 album "Underdog" is still, in my opinion, one of the best albums Christian music has ever, ever created. They sort of became the poster band for youth group missions trips. How could they not? They had songs about youth group van road trips, being willing to go wherever God sent you, and everyone needing God.
They also had a silly sense of humor, which led to songs like The Houseplant Song, about rock music being bad for you, and Big House, a goofy song about playing football in Heaven. Though it wasn't quite as silly, Get Down also became the classic youth trip option of "light-hearted songs to get the teens involved at the beginning of worship." (I went on one trip where we sang it every morning.)
They also ultimately wrote some really nice, mellow, serious pieces. I'm a fan particularly of Ocean Floor, Never Gonna Be As Big As Jesus, and Good Life.
3. dc Talk. Oh, where to begin with dc Talk?
The group consisted of Kevin Max Smith, Toby McKeehan, and Michael Tait. (They're in that order on the above album picture.) They started off as a rap group, putting out two albums that were just straight hip hop. Cheesy 1990s pop hip hop, but ya know, close enough. Toby was the rapper, and the other two sang the choruses. Their third album, "Free At Last," branched out a little bit, offering songs like Socially Acceptable and Say the Words that were primarily non-rap, along with songs like Luv is a Verb and Jesus Is Just Alright that sounded more like what they'd been doing already.
And then along came Jesus Freak in 1995.
They went full rock on that album, giving no warning that that was going to happen, but it turned out to be one of the best Christian albums ever, as well as giving us the actual song "Jesus Freak," which pretty much defined an entire generation of teens. The album dealt with topics like racism, hypocrisy and wanting to avoid it, and asking for forgiveness from people you've wronged. This album connected with Christian teens in a powerful way. I was only nine when it first came out, but its influence was still obvious by the time I reached high school.
dc Talk's final album, "Supernatural," was a pop rock album that wasn't quite as earth-shattering as their previous one, but it still had some great songs, like Consume Me, Into Jesus, and the title track.
The group went their own separate ways after that to pursue solo careers. Toby has had the most successful solo career, taking the name "tobyMac" and putting out lots of Christian hip hop, though he's been edging toward a poppier sound these days.
Kevin dropped his last name and goes by "Kevin Max," and he's had a ridiculously varied career, releasing:
- a melancholy, artsy CD with a Middle Eastern flair
- a cheerful pop rock album
- a collection of covers of old spirituals and hymns
- an electronic pop album
- and two EPs of epic soundtrackian covers meant to accompany a graphic novel he's written.
Michael formed the band Tait and released two albums before going on hiatus (neither of which I really listened to).
And now... here's the fun part.
In 2009, Newsboys' lead singer, Peter Furler, left the band to focus on his family. They announced shortly afterward that Michael Tait would join the band as their new lead singer. The band has been moderately successful since Michael joined the band.
In 2006, Audio Adrenaline disbanded. Lead singer Mark Stuart stepped down due to vocal issues (they thought it was because of overuse, but Wikipedia informs me he actually has a disorder which causes his larynx to spasm. Huh). In 2012, six years after their hiatus, it was announced that Kevin Max would reform the band and take over as lead singer. Their first album together came out just last week (with Mark Stuart co-writing several songs), and I have not yet gotten a chance to listen to it, but I'm super excited.
Now we just have to find an awesome old Christian band for Toby to take over.
This blog is already ridiculously long, but I wanted to take a quick moment to give a shout out to the rock bands that I still liked (in varying degrees) but were not quite as essential in my Christian music upbringing. I'm looking at you, Relient K, Superchic[k], P.O.D., and Jars of Clay.
I've spoken a crapload. Now it's your turn to talk if you want. What were your favorite Christian rock groups? Do you feel the ones I've mentioned are overrated?