Kirk Franklin - Hello Fear (2011)

Kirk Franklin

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While whipping up dialogue addressing those pesky insecurities we often times call fear, Kirk Franklin's background singers give Satan a nice-nasty ultimatum: "See, I'm tired of being brokenhearted/So, I made a list and you're on it/All my hopes and my dreams/You took from me/I want those back before you leave." On paper, those words sound ferocious; smelling like the closing chapter on a broken relationship, but the music never allows the lyrics to get bitchy. These are the opening remarks found on Kirk Franklin's fifth studio album (excluding his Christmas and live albums) after a four-year absence. Last time we saw Franklin, he was donning Everlast boxing gloves and boots in Vegas style on the cover of Fight of My Life.

While whipping up dialogue addressing those pesky insecurities we often times call fear, Kirk Franklin's background singers give Satan a nice-nasty ultimatum: "See, I'm tired of being brokenhearted/So, I made a list and you're on it/All my hopes and my dreams/You took from me/I want those back before you leave." On paper, those words sound ferocious; smelling like the closing chapter on a broken relationship, but the music never allows the lyrics to get bitchy. These are the opening remarks found on Kirk Franklin's fifth studio album (excluding his Christmas and live albums) after a four-year absence. Last time we saw Franklin, he was donning Everlast boxing gloves and boots in Vegas style on the cover of Fight of My Life. The album itself was considered by most critics to be a return to form with its rich, personalized balladry and the endearing melodies of Franklin's musical beginnings, but failed commercially to produce the high-grossing record sales of Hero.

After taking some needful time off to regroup, Franklin returns to the fighting ring to face life's demons and the more relevant crisis of poverty and unemployment on Hello Fear. His remedies for life's upsets include smiling through the tough times ("I Smile"), soulful pleading at the altar ("The Altar") and a return to old-fashioned blood pleading ("But the Blood"). It seems at first as if the accomplished and well respected producer/songwriter is less interested in the bump ‘n grind urban gospel that usually attracts the interest of crossover radio. There are less uptempos present. In exchange are Andrae Crouch-styled choir builders and Mid-America worship choruses. The exhaustive sampling is also out of the equation while simple Stargate-inspired productions and string-induced arrangements now run in their place.

Hello Fear does bear a good dose of gospel richness. "The Altar," flowing in and out of Margaret Douroux and James Cleveland dynamics, is an architect's dream design, as the song's stars, Marvin Sapp and Beverly Crawford, use their pulpit brassiness to whip the soulful song into Sunday morning putty. "A God Like You," with vocoder effects and lots of summer breeze, walks the lines of Sounds of Blackness' "Hold On (Change Is Comin')." Instead of serving as the album's benediction, the album closer should have actually been reformatted as the processional.

The album filler and uneventful sloppiness found on some of its menu isn't spread out across a platter, but isn't difficult to detect. "Give Me," featuring up-and-coming resident gospel singer Mali Music, gallops longer than it should with its six minutes of "oh-oh-oh" chants and one-liners, while "Today" feels like a SNL parody on Black Eyed Peas' "I Got a Feelin'." One of Franklin's revered traditional gospel offerings ("Something About That Name Jesus") even gets an all-star revival with the casting of gospel giants like Rance Allen, John P. Kee and Marvin Winans, but quickly loses its spark when placed side by side with its predecessor. And, just when you think Hello Fear is done with being predictable, the chorus heard on "But the Blood" rehashes itself on a two-part live segment named "The Moment." The repetitiveness of this unusual trick from Franklin is simply a sly way to drill somewhere into a worshipper's psyche the inclination that these songs could easily become 21st century hymns. Still, good songs aren't supposed to look desperate on an album.

Over the years, Franklin has morphed his gospel sound into the eye of the mainstream by pushing contemporary gospel further away from its simple drum ‘n bass basics. As the face of pop music changes usually so does Franklin's. But, it's becoming more evident, after hearing Hello Fear, that Franklin is steadily losing his grip on the dominance he once had on the gospel world and its bridge to modern pop. Whereas his 1994 debut or the No. 1 R&B album God's Property From Kirk Franklin's Nu Nation reveals a genius at work, Hello Fear-even in its most satisfying elements-sounds like the creator is simply playing with his work during recess. Despite the album's frailties, Franklin creates a conceivable concept album that seems sincere, friendly and well-timed. Let's just hope on the next round that recess will be over for gospel's most celebrated innovator. Modestly Recommended

By J. Matthew Cobb

 
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