Song 219: Frank Ocean, “Bad Religion” (2012)

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It’s funny where revelations can happen: in a church, on a barstool, in the shower. In “Bad Religion,” it happens to Frank Ocean in a taxicab, presumably after the moment that doomed any possibility of romance with the man he loves.

Ocean calls the cab driver his “shrink for the hour,” but he’s more like a priest in a dark, uncomfortable confessional, listening to Ocean talk about how he’s in this religion alone, making it more of a “one-man cult” than any kind of logical belief system. But faith is faith, and just like there’s no logic to many aspects of spirituality, love just happens.

“Bad Religion” packs a lot into its three minutes, and in that sense, the song exemplifies Frank Ocean’s primary strength: concision. That may be a strange word for a guy who wrote a seven-minute song connecting a strip club to ancient Egypt, but it’s true. The main line of the chorus alone–“If it brings me to my knees, it’s a bad religion”–is sparsely worded but dense with meaning, eliciting images of begging, prayer, and sexual acts. And though the song features an organ and strings, it sounds open and airy, like a church between services.

The album version of “Bad Religion” is excellent, but the rendition that Ocean performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon is a thing of beauty. A private confession is one thing, revelation among fellow believers is something else entirely.

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