In a lengthy career, controversy has never been too far away from gospel star Kirk Franklin and this new album, his 11th studio set and first release since 2011, has done little to calm the troubled waters. For starters, the title, ‘Losing My Religion’, is bound to set tongues wagging and get fingers pointing and indeed in the spoken word piece that opens the album Kirk seems to rail against organized religion; to support what many non-believers subscribe to… that religion divides and causes conflict; and to wonder why, if there is a loving God, why is the world plagued with so many serious problems, disasters and tragedies. But listen longer to the track ‘Losing My Religion’ (and yes, Kirk does reference the REM song) and you’ll discover that the sentiments are not anti-Christian at all. In essence what he seems to be saying is that too many Christians have concentrated too long on ritual and practice rather than honouring God and living his message. Further he suggests that it’s the religious structures and traditions created by humans that distract and distort from the simple Christian message; that if we escape from accepted, human-codified religious thinking, then we can enjoy a better, clearer and more direct relationship with God. We can speak directly to Him without the evolved trappings while He is always prepared to speak directly to us on that special one-to-one basis. The album’s second track ‘Miracles’ outlines how God explained just that to Kirk. By speaking with God, he says, we can witness miracles every day.
‘1-2-3 Victory’ is just as complex. The lesson here is that God, through Christ’s death and resurrection has won us our eternal victory; it’s up to us to accept it. And so it goes… each song with a complicated lesson and far from losing his religion, Mr. Franklin is enriching his spiritual experiences via newer, deeper, more intimate channels. And so the album’s message unfolds and with Gospel in general and with Kirk Franklin in particular, the message most definitely IS in the music
But what is the music like, ‘cos after all, any message is more impactful if it’s easily accessible and “attractive” while plenty of secular soul collectors go to Gospel albums for great melodies, stirring rhythms and sweet harmonies? There’s plenty of all three on ‘Losing My Religion’ though the general soundscape is “typically Kirk Franklin”. That’s too say most of the songs feature Kirk testifying over contemporary R&B beats, supported by a female chorus… and it’s some chorus he’s recruited here. The album features some big Gospel names, amongst them Tasha Page-Lockhart , Zacardi Cortez, Kim Burrell, Lalah Hathaway, Sarah Reeves, Tasha Cobbs, and Tamela Mann. Mss Burrell and Hathaway are particularly enticing on ‘When’ – the pick of the album’s slower movements, while the catchiest “up” tune is ‘Wanna Be Happy’ – no wonder Franklin and his team chose it as the lead single. Elsewhere, the most dramatic moment comes on ‘Pray For Me’. This begins starkly with just Kirk and piano accompaniment, eventually building into a choral version of the Lord’s Prayer. In the song Kirk Franklin realizes he’s a flawed personality. He wants God to accept his flaws in the same way as we all must accept the flaws and shortcomings in those around us.
Love and compassion is the ultimate message in ‘Losing My Religion’. Franklin says: “God is able to separate what you’ve done from who you are. It’s that God sees us as children, and a lot of times we take our mistakes or failures or our sins, and we use it as a blanket and we wrap ourselves in it. God is able to separate us from that, to love us, while still addressing those areas we need to change. But we have a hard time doing that for ourselves.”
KIRK FRANKLIN ‘Losing My Religion’ is out now