Bad Religion by Frank Ocean

English teachers around the world preach three types of conflict narrative to their students: relational, external, and internal. Now the first two, yes, are very relevant to plot construction, but upon closer examination of great works, one cannot argue with the fact that every single human issue contains the question of one’s self– internal conflict is what fuels human philosophy. Consciousness is overwhelmingly fatiguing yet needed to survive; it’s one of the world’s greatest ironies and it has provided mankind with wonderful, haunting art. Throw in a lethal dose of unrequited love and you’ve got yourself a dangerous brew of refined culture. Frank Ocean, soulful crooner of the shock-rap outfit Odd Future, understands this archaic struggle and illustrates his experiences with it in his new track, “Bad Religion,” off of the new and brilliant, Channel Orange.  With Ocean’s recent coming out, the song feels entirely personal, almost to the point of wincing voyeurism with Ocean crooning about mercy and unrequited love, sprinkling in tiny segments of alluring urban imagery. The song begins with a lonely, familiar-sounding organ progression until Ocean break’s its dirge with a soaring, “Taxi driver, you’re my shrink for the hour,” forcing you into the seat next to the mentally drained Ocean not to console him, but to simply listen. Percussion is rare and sparse; only a few handclaps make their way into the second verse and a light beat concludes a final chorus. Its absence allows Frank Ocean’s voice to shine and his story to be told candidly. A well timed string section adds an emphasized dramatic effect and embellishes the song’s tight production. Ocean’s lyricism reads close to the subject matter of a Hamlet soliloquy; you can envision the singer in a sequestered church on the outskirts of town, alone on his knees begging for mercy as he verbally spills out all of his troubles and anxieties. “Bad Religion” conjures up feelings of empathy, pain, and mercy but does not strive for sappy, Morrissey-like complaining. Instead, the song is a confident approach to conveying emptiness and and the futility of happiness’ pursuit. Everybody has some sort of internal demon, whether it be self-esteem, narcissism, hubris, or in Frank Ocean’s case, insecurity and unrequited love. “Bad Religion” is a light house that can be seen dimly illuminating an electric pathway through the hazy fog of our world’s dark anxieties.

-Ryan Ricks

 

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