Disclaimer: All views presented in this Album Review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O.
On The Wade-O Radio Show, we have interviewed several artists who have told their testimony of being saved and delivered from whatever they used to struggle with. And many times there is a point in their story, that they talk about changing the kind of music they listen to. The common theme to almost all of them is saying this phrase:
“What am I going to do now – listen to Kirk Franklin all the time??”
This is a telling statement about how impactful Kirk Franklin has been and still is in the gospel music scene.
Having been making music for about 22 years, releasing his first album in 1993 with Kirk Franklin & The Family, many adults today have grown up on his music. They know his sound, they know his style, and they know all the little quirks that make him who he is as an artist. And when that happens, it can become hard for an artist to reinvent themselves without forsaking their past.
With the release of his 11th studio album, Kirk’s newest release, Losing My Religion, is set to be his first new project since 2011. But with a title like that, are we looking at a forsaking of what Kirk has done in the past, or is there a deeper meaning than what it appears to be? Has Kirk gotten tired of the same old gospel scene? Allow me to unpack the message behind Losing My Religion.
Relationship > Religion
Many of us who grew up in church know how traditions and rituals have taken the place of honoring God above our plans during worship, and even our lives. Many people have a skewed view of Christianity because of this fact. The notion of Christianity being about a relationship, not a religion, has become a common phrase to help disassociate those who live for Christ and not traditions in the church – to help them standout in the eyes of those desiring to cast stones at the faith.
Kirk aims to undo this way of thinking in what seems to be three phases. He starts off the album talking about how the body of Christ has been away from the teachings of Christ for too long–prompting him to write the spoken-word intro piece “Losing My Religion”. It pulls no punches and puts a mirror in front of Christians, asking them to reflect on their own life, and if they treat others who aren’t like them, as Jesus would desire them to. Much like how “Pray For Me” asks the listener: If someone were to come to you with an “unholy” situation, would you respond as a pharisee or truly pray for them with a compassionate heart?
Many of these songs are about how freedom from religious thinking allows you to enjoy the fullness of God throughout all aspects of your life. Religious thinking leads one to think that they need to work to receive God’s grace and mercy, when a relationship with God shows how you can’t earn the free gift that Jesus gives. “Miracles” is all about how God does a new miracle for you every day of your life, and “123 Victory” is all about how victory in Christ is not determined by how your surrounding situation looks like, but on the fact that God has already won the victory for you. “Road Trip” talks about how God already has a plan for your future, no matter how the road is. All of the songs flows together in a coherent synergy.
The second phase, halfway through the project, right where someone could be thinking that, “This is all good and well, but my life isn’t that great and easy”, Kirk addresses the doubt our flesh can have on the road to true freedom in Christ. “It’s Time” (featuring Tasha Page-Lockhart & Zacardi Cortez), “Wanna Be Happy”, and “True Story” all deal with the low points of anyone’s life. Being down and out – bills due, no money to pay them, etc. – and how Jesus is still there during those low times. And in case you needed a reminder, “Over” is about how even when things get down, it doesn’t mean that God has forgotten you.
The third phase is worship and intercession mode–right when you’ve accepted that God hasn’t forgotten you, but you’re crying out for his help in the midst of your struggle. “When” is such a mellow track to the Lord about the Kingdom’s desire for the Father to come and bring us home. Kim Burrell smashes this song along with Lalah Hathaway. It’s followed up with a soul cry to God for His presence in “My World Needs You”, which features Sarah Reeves, Tasha Cobbs and Tamela Mann. To wrap up the worship experience, Kirk makes a plea to Jesus to intercede on his behave to the father with “Intercession”, because he knows that Jesus is trustworthy to do so for all of us.
Closing the album, Kirk doesn’t let us off the hook without a challenge. He wants there to be real change in the way we represent Christ to those who don’t know Him like we do. Kirk’s desire is for the conversation to stay open and we will have “No Sleep Tonight” until these real issues are addressed in a real way in the Church. This is a fine song to end an album that strives to talk about hypocrisies in a faith that is about love and compassion.
Music Fo Yo Soul
From beginning to end, this project provides great music. Now after you get over the shock that Kirk actually had some bars on the intro track, he hits you with a classic Kirk song. Full band, large production, female singers starting the song off in the verse – you know, the “Kirk Sound”. What excited me about this project though, was how that’s not what this album is full of. There are songs where Kirk sings the entire time, like “Pray For Me” and “Intercession” – something we haven’t heard much since his early career. Also, there are more male leads on this project – another thing that goes against past albums that were full of female lead parts.
There is sadly a truth in the gospel music scene where the production can sound a little behind the current sound, when it’s not doing traditional “church” gospel songs with a choir and organ, etc. Those who aren’t Christians, always say this. Of course “123 Victory”, “Road Trip”, “Miracles”, “Wanna Be Happy”, and a handful of others all sounded fine. It’s Kirk Franklin we’re talking about, so you’re going to get high quality music… period. But I’m specifically speaking about “Pray For Me”, “Over”, and “My World Needs You”. The first two have the fullness that songs you hear on current pop/urban charts do. The drum kicks, the synths – everything.
“My World Needs You” sounds like a really well done Christian Contemporary song that would be played on Christian radio today. I may be over-stressing this point, but as someone who listens to a lot of gospel music, I had never been gripped by the sound like I did when playing these tracks. Many times when Gospel artists attempts to step outside of their “box” and do some sort of Gospel-Pop or Gospel-R&B, it sounds like it’s a copy or parody of it. It doesn’t always come across as authentically “that”. It’s just something I hadn’t heard in the genre before – it was done so well, that it made me pay attention to that part of it.
I also cannot forget about “When”. It is a smooth record that has a cool jazz tune, which matches perfectly with Kim Burrell’s vocal ability. So yeah, be ready for that one too.
Losing My Religion is a challenge to the listener. Kirk Franklin made this album to challenge Christians to stop being so religious in its thinking, and to start loving the world as Jesus did. This album has great songs and it’s clear that Kirk hasn’t lost any of his talent and is still relevant in the music scene. The songs are great, they clearly express Jesus – no more talk of the music being “Inspirational”. If you enjoy Kirk in any phase of his career, you are going to like this project.