The Fight of My Life
- reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2007 1 Dec
- Declaration (This Is It!)
- Little Boy (feat. Rance Allen)
- Help Me Believe
- Hide Me
- How It Used to Be
- He Will Supply
- I Am God (feat. tobyMac)
- It Would Take All Day
- A whole Nation (feat. Donovan Owens)
- Still in Love
- I Like Me (feat. Da' T.R.U.T.H.)
- Still (In Control) (feat. Doug & Melvin Williams)
- The Last Jesus
Hard to believe this year marks Kirk Franklin's 15th anniversary in contemporary gospel music. Since the gospel superstar's humble yet explosive beginnings fronting Kirk Franklin and the Family, his star has skyrocketed past pretty much every other artist in the gospel scene—the bestselling contemporary artist in SoundScan history with over 10 million in albums sold.
Franklin typically takes three or four years between albums because he's often busy nurturing the careers of upcoming artists and exploring other creative avenues. The lapse is generally warranted considering that his releases always end up as blockbuster music events. The same is true of The Fight of My Life, even though it released in a shorter-than-usual two-year span following 2005's platinum-selling chart-topper Hero.
It's evident from the very get-go how much attention to detail Franklin placed in each of this Fight's songs. The first single "Declaration (This Is It!)" is as hard-hitting as any other first single Franklin has released in the past decade and a half—if not more so. More modern and urbanized than anything in his oeuvre, it's a larger-than-life anthem of empowerment that brilliantly fuses a Kenny Loggins sample with the artist's trademark choral/urban combo into a blazing pop banger. It's an instant classic.
"Declaration" sets the stage for the rest of Fight. In a way, it's almost as if the disc expounded on Hero as far as the feel and the meticulous production values. Whether it's a soulful ballad or a sunny, carefree singalong, the quality is simply outstanding. A highpoint is future single "Jesus!" with an irresistible, horn-drenched revelry backed by lush orchestral flourishes, a lively children's choir, and a beach-ready vibe—a sort of Barry White and Kanye West hybrid, with the right measure of Franklin thrown in.
At first glance, Fight seems more tailor-made for a younger, more MTV-minded set than Franklin's elegant, genre-spanning approach. At least that's the impression tracks like "I Am God" and "I Like Me" give—two hard-hitting, hip-hop-based cuts that are as catchy and youthful as anything on recent albums by tobyMac and Da' T.R.U.T.H. Incidentally, both rappers make cameo appearances in those, and "I Am God" could well be the first rap/rock song by a gospel artist.
On closer listening, however, the bulk of Fight's greatness is found in the more soulful, classier moments. The tender "Hide Me" is pure Stevie Wonder, a mid-tempo jam adorned with lightly strummed guitar, barely-there wind and brass sections, and a killer chord progression. Just as stylish is "How It Used to Be," an emotive and repentant prayer where Franklin and his singers lay their souls bare.
The best of the bunch is the stirring "Help Me Believe," possibly the most beautiful, poignant ballad from Franklin to date. Describing its many nuances here would fail to do it justice, but suffice to say its humanity and authenticity shines brighter than the majority of today's gospel and Christian radio output
Gospel music isn't entirely shoved to the side here, though its role is certainly more supplemental than central. The traditional, piano-backed "He Will Supply," for example, is a throwback to old-school Family territory—big on harmonies and vocalization, and sure to be a hit with early-day Franklin fans. The same could be said of the jazzy, strings-drenched "Chains," a heartfelt, almost cabaret-styled tune filled with vocal runs, piano embellishments, and a lyric focused on the struggle between faith and flesh.
If there's a point where Franklin doesn't quite win the Fight is when he goes on autopilot. The plodding "A Whole Nation" is a well-intentioned song for the kids of this generation—and their parents—but it's too obvious and self-serious in its subject matter. And though the disco-fied "Still in Love" is a fun number, it ultimately comes across as a cheaper, less catchy clone of Franklin's previously released "Looking for You."
Those quibbles are minor. Franklin has always kept both of his feet firmly planted in the urban and contemporary gospel realms, but here we see him entertaining his love of R&B, pop, and soul more than ever before. The fact that he can bring all these sensibilities under the same roof and keep everything cohesive is proof positive that Franklin is in a league of his own. He keeps reinventing himself, which just might explain why after all these years he still rules the charts.