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A quick glance at the track listing of the latest dc Talk best-of release would lead those with only a passing knowledge of the group's history to assume that its members stepped out of the proverbial musical womb, fully formed, with their landmark Free at Last record in 1992, followed it up three years later with the career-defining Jesus Freak album and then bowed out at the top of the heap with 1998's Supernatural, a Number 4 disc on the Billboard Hot 100 that produced five chart-topping singles. The more ardent followers in the crowd, however, will be quick to indicate that such a revisionist view completely glosses over the group's humble beginnings in the late '80s as would-be rappers at Virginia's Liberty University, a grueling 24-month stint as roadies for Christian rockers DeGarmo & Key and, most importantly, a duo of decidedly less-than-stellar albums put out long before Free at Last ever saw the light of day.
While one could perhaps rightly argue that any truly comprehensive dc Talk collection should feature material from the aforementioned self-titled 1989 debut and its 1990 follow-up, Nu Thang, the slighting of the freshman and sophomore projects on the new anthology hardly amounts to a fatal flaw, particularly in light of the fact that 20 of the Talksters' 22 Top 40 entries came during the post-Nu Thang era. Covering the 1992 to 1998 timeframe, Greatest Hits does an excellent job of tracing the Talk collective's fast-changing musical arc from the near-irresistible rap-meets-pop energy of Free at Last ("Love Is a Verb," "Jesus Is Just Alright," "The Hardway"), to Jesus Freak's seemingly effortless mastery of pop, rock and even grunge ("Just Between You and Me," "Colored People," and the title cut, respectively), to the sublime adult pop strains that laced the Supernatural release ("Godsend," "Consume Me").
It does bear noting that the new compendium features virtually the same running order as 2000's Intermission, omitting only "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" from the 1995 One Way Larry Norman tribute project, the Intermission-only songs "Chance" and "Sugar Coat It," and a pair of spoken-word skits (which most listeners will find a welcome deletion). In their place it inserts "Red Letters" and the Number 1 "Godsend," both from Supernatural. While such additions and deletions hardly serve to differentiate the two albums appreciably, they nonetheless render Greatest Hits the more even-handed retrospective, given that only two of Intermission's seventeen non-spoken tracks were taken from the Supernatural record.
That said, Greatest Hits still manages to pass over five Number one singles from the dcTalk oeuvre, including three from Supernatural alone, making the inclusion of that album's title cut and "Red Letters" (neither of which charted) all the more puzzling. Of course, any such haggling over that which was left in or kept out is a moot point for longtime fans and completists, who already own all of the songs on the compilation. Likewise, newcomers -- and there are still a few of them out there -- looking for a bona fide warts-and-all summary of the group's career will consider the exclusion of the pre-1992 material a prohibitively bitter pill to swallow. Those pitching their tents in the middle ground between these two camps, though, will find the Hits collection an enjoyable single-disc overview of the lion's share of the still-beloved group's most familiar offerings.
Bert Gangl, 08.05.07