Kirk Franklin – Losing My Religion

losing my religionKirk Franklin
Losing My Religion
Fo Yo Soul Recordings / RCA Inspiration
(release date: November 15, 2015)

By Bob Marovich

The church, like corporations and labor unions, started out revolutionary and ended up a bureaucracy. How did that happen when Jesus stated that the key to life is simple: “Love one another?” Yet over the centuries, man in his arrogance and vanity has weighted down this universal dictum with so many asterisks that the world has sunk to the bottom of a pool of perpetual confusion.

Along these lines, and articulated in an unaccompanied poem that serves as the opening and title track of Losing My Religion, Kirk Franklin has a “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any longer” moment. He takes on the “organized” part of organized religion. Rules that run religion, he rhymes (not raps), “divide God’s people in two.” “Rules without relationship leave you empty inside.” They divide people by race on Sundays and judge by color and sexual preference every day. And despite the proliferation of religion, terrible tragedies still abound internationally and on American streets. “With all this religion, how come babies can’t eat?” Franklin despairs of the financial plight of the middle-class and the insidious persistence of racism. “The next time you think, America, please include me.”

Franklin concludes with the premise of the album: “Losing my religion? Thank God. Helping you lose yours is my job.”

The controversy, of course, is that Franklin is inciting some kind of mass movement to leave the church. I don’t see it that way. He’s not saying to leave the church but to live by faith and good works. Rules were made by man and have not moved the emotional needle much in the last 2,000 years. For real change to take place, people must establish their own relationship with God, whether that means sitting in a pew or on a park bench. The individual must keep in mind the original precepts upon which the church was built: love and forgiveness. And let me add acceptance.

Despite the controversy about Losing My Religion, the songs that follow up on Franklin’s opening salvo swim in basically the same water as his last release, 2011’s Hello Fear. The tracks are tuneful (the ensemble navigates a fascinating chain of chord changes on the bridge of “Road Trip”), and much of the singing is given over to the vivacious ensemble, with Franklin interjecting like a bandleader or a preacher to the congregation. The songs are hopeful and optimistic, fixing spirituality in a direct relationship with God.

For example, “Wanna Be Happy,” the current single and gospel music record breaker for the most digital sales in its first week of release, suggests that the key to happiness lies within us. “Road Trip” says to expect trials but also know that blessings are on the way. Jesus knows how you feel; lean on him as you struggle with the haters and life’s many other indignities.

Time stops, however, at the arrival of “Pray for Me,” a hushed selection that features Franklin and piano for much of its nearly five minutes. Here, Franklin makes his own case clear: I’m not perfect, I know what I’ve done, you needn’t remind me, just be kind and lift me up in prayer. And nothing super spiritual either, he adds. A simple prayer will do. Love and forgiveness. “Pray for Me” is arguably Franklin’s finest composition since “Take Me to the King” and among his best recordings, fueled by a formidable arrangement that swells with revitalizing energy.

While Losing My Religion may not make explicit Kirk Franklin’s personal stance on the many controversies of the church, you don’t need to read between the lines to see that he recommends Jesus’s simple three-word command as the surest route to spiritual fulfillment, and demonstrating it by prayer and good works.

Four of Five Stars

Picks: “Pray for Me,” “Wanna Be Happy.”

About Bob Marovich

Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, author, and radio host. Founder of Journal of Gospel Music blog (formally The Black Gospel Blog) and producer of the Gospel Memories Radio Show.