By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
By Stacy Schwartz
By Natalie Gallagher
By Erik Thompson
By Jeff Gage
By Loren Green
TOUGH TIMES PRODUCE all manner of charming hucksters offering to ease our worries with magical salves and simplistic credos. That Reverend Franklin peddles Jesus rather than Versace or bump 'n' grind as a cure-all shouldn't harden secular hearts against him. Fair is fair--rock and soul fervor are as historically rooted in the religious impulse as they are in the sexual (as if those two could be neatly separated), and if the devil regularly gets his due on the airwaves, why shouldn't that other Guy be allotted the odd crossover?
Last year's "Stomp" combined recycled P-Funk electrowhomp and Franklin's own dementedly pious interjections ("Devil, you can't take my joy--hah!") to make Pentecostal ecstasy seem as valid an excuse to party as overdriven hormones or a successfully completed crack deal. Nu Nation begins promisingly with a skit placing Franklin on trial for "Making gospel music too secular," a twist on player hatin' that reveals a persecution complex that rivals Puffy's. Then "Revolution" whoops out against a generic list of social ills (black-on-black crime, pollution, Christian hypocrisy) over chunks of guitar and martial funk breaks. The all-star testifyin' of "Lean on Me" does strain your credulity--not regarding Jesus, but regarding the tastelessly sentimental overkill of R&B balladry. Yet if you could believe in "I Believe I Can Fly," you can stomach the slick, histrionic testimonies of R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, and, God help us, Bono (who believes that being in a room full of black people itself guarantees righteousness).
But all conceptual hype aside, the rest of Nu Nation is merely an atypically engaging gospel disc, its few guitar licks merely embellishments, its choppy syn-drums little more than technologically updated hand-claps. For all his protestations of funk, Franklin remains primarily preoccupied with the spirit, rather than the body, and committed to an outdated, lumbering choral gospel style. That mass of undifferentiated voices simply isn't as flexible or capable of emotive nuance as the smaller harmony combos that took over and eventually begat doo-wop and soul. It's relieving that Franklin would rather preach about handing your worries over to Jesus than attempt to inflict virtue on unbelieving heathens, yet he may have to reach further out into the secular community to find the producers, songwriters, and soloists he needs to realize his concept. Pray with me, brothers and sisters, that the Lord will deliver these helpmates unto him.
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