The O.C. Supertones: Unite
Sound/Style: aggressive, reggae-influenced Christian pop/rock
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- Hailing from Orange County, Calif. (which accounts for the "O.C." in their name), The Supertones stand as one of Christian pop’s most original outfits. For a decade now, they’ve been sharing the Gospel in a mixture of revved-up rock and Jamaican musical influences. By combining overdriven guitars, bleating horns and the exuberant, sometimes frenetic rhythms of ska music – a predecessor of reggae – The Supertones have crafted a sound ideally suited to celebration as well as to uncompromising exhortation. In conjunction with their farewell tour and impending retirement, the band has released a compilation of 20 tracks from their half-dozen studio records. The collection, Unite, offers an overview of a band that matured from a high school hobby into a potent musical and evangelical force.
During the commercial peak of punk and new wave music in the 1980s, bands of that stripe brought strains of reggae and ska to a new generation of listeners, both as an appetizer and, in the case of The Specials, Madness and The Selecter, a full-course meal. Supertones founders Matt Morginsky and Jason Carson were among the many teens who caught the musical wave but were two of the few to use it as a foundation for ministry. Like the bands that were their initial models, The Supertones smacked of a novelty act in their dark glasses and matching utilitarian uniforms, while their early hits "Resolution" and the nervous but determined "Who Can Be Against Me?" suggested a nearly out-of-control marching band. Once past the wacky exterior, though, their songs proved to be hard-hitting declarations that grew headier with each successive release.
Lyrics such as "fight like a man/Scriptures in hand" are typical of tracks like "Unite" and "Return Of The Revolution," both of which feature a rapid-fire, rap-styled vocal. This, too, is consistent with the band’s reggae roots, as rap was actually derived from the rhythmic recitations known in Jamaican music as "toasting." The style eschews the oppressive quality of most rap and punk music but, significantly, retains its fist-pounding fervency, adding considerable clout to verses like the following: "We can’t defend our faith ‘cause we don’t even know it/We say we love the Lord but pick a funny way to show it/When the world walks by, we don’t have a thing to say/I call ‘em like I see ‘em and that’s what I see today."
Also included here are examples of the band’s lighter side, ranging from the easygoing worship song "Away From You" to the calypso-tinged "Old Friend" as well as affirmations of gratitude and joy rife with buoyant melodies and horn lines. These are the breath-catching exceptions, though. As is demonstrated throughout Unite, The Supertones’ stock-in-trade is unrelenting, high-octane reggae-rock that may threaten to become repetitious to the unconverted (the musically unconverted, that is), and you know who you are. If you can dig Bob Marley’s political and religious outcries, you’re halfway there. If you have a heart for Jesus, easy access to an espresso machine, and are still waiting for your Supertones initiation, Unite is a perfect place to get on board.
Steve Morley is a freelance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of the United Methodist Church.