Prime Cuts: Wanna Be Happy?, Pray for Me, My World Needs You
It's easy to misinterpret the titular of Kirk Franklin's new album "Losing My Religion." For starters, Franklin is not abandoning his Christian roots. Neither is he eskewing his references to God and faith on this album. In fact, there's nothing on this new record that suggest any crossover hints. This is a distinctively Gospel records with no shade of selling out for the secular market. Moreover, the title cut "Losing My Religion" is not a cover of REM's 90s hit song of the same name. Rather, the title cut "Losing My Religion" is a spoken song which functions more like a sermon where for 3:21 minutes Franklin berates Evangelical Christians in the West for not living out the talk we often profess. Giving a copious litany of where we as a church have not lived to our Lord's calling (including an ode to how the church should minister to homosexuals), this is a much-needed kick in the butt for those who are serious of Christ.
The rest of the 12 tracks are musical tracks where we are greeted by Franklin's much-missed patented neo-soul Gospel funk. "Miracles" is vintage Gospel at its best. Going back to church with a full choir adding a full-powered assurance that God still does miracles, it's wonderful to hear Franklin at the fore as the choir master again. Lead single "Wanna Be Happy?" is another winner. Intertwining seamlessly Al Green's classic "Tired of Being Alone" into the song, Franklin here gives the antidote to our loneliness: Jesus. More Jesus moments abound with the average-sounding "Road Trip;" a true-to-life ode to how our life's journey may not always be smooth, but we will always have His light. "123 Victory" as the titular suggests is a victory chant quipped with an ear-grabbing reggae vibe that is infectious.
Though the ballads are in the minority, they are not to be missed. "Pray for Me" is easily the best song here. All the frills are removed - no choir, no clanging horns, no overwhelming choir -- what we find here is a vulnerable Franklin with just a piano (for most part) on his heartfelt best. "When" which features vocal appearances from Lalath Hathaway and Kim Burrell continues the prayer sequence but the song is let down by its nebulous melodic structure. The song just winds and meanders without ever arriving at any hooks. A lot better is "My World Needs You" which starts off contemplatively before soaring to an altar-call inducing height, thanks to the powerhouse soars of Sarah Reeves, Tamela Mann and Tasha Cobbs. "True Story," with its B-3 organ riffs, has a country ring to it. The song, like many country songs, circles around two stories with protagonists that need the grace of God.
Franklin has stated across various interviews that he wants to put on the brakes in making this album. This is why it has taken him nearly 4 years to come up with this record. On one hand, he doesn't disappoint as there are lots of good songs. On the other hand, is there an undeniable timeless classic here? Maybe not quite, though "Pray for Me" and "Wanna Be Happy?" are close.