LP Review: Lenny Kravitz, ‘Raise Vibration’ – A Hot Mess, But At Least It’s Hot

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“If  we’re right, and we can stop this thing…Lenny…you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters.” – Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ghostbusters

I know what you’re thinking. Why post a quote from the movie Ghostbusters when we’re talking about rock and roll here? Well, if you remember correctly that line from Bill Murray’s character, Peter Venkman, comes during a scene when the Ghosbusters are in the Mayor’s office (the Mayor’s name is Lenny). Things are going badly. The Ghostbusters had been in jail prior to being summoned to see the Mayor. The evil spirits and ghosts had all been released and the sky had turned dark, blocking out the sun. There’s a cop in the room who says that a police precinct has walls that are “bleeding.” The Cardinal drops by, and says he thinks it’s all “a sign from God.” Things are looking bleak, “wrath of God, old Testament, cats living with dogs” kind of bad. If Lenny the Mayor will allow the Ghostbusters to go fight these supernatural foes, he may just save the lives of “millions of registered voters.”

Flash forward to the world today. Things are getting pretty bleak out there. I don’t even watch the news anymore and I consider myself pretty “wonky.” The U.S. seems more divided than at any time in history. Democracy itself is on the brink. Half the people are mad at the President, the other half are mad at the half that’s mad at the President. Scary, right-wing, Nationalist parties are winning elections, or doing well, all over Europe. There’s so much anger and hatred toward our fellow men out there, especially immigrants. Enter Lenny…in this case, not the Mayor, but Lenny Kravitz. With this backdrop of oppression, graft and rage, Lenny Kravitz has crafted an album highlighting the things he’s been singing about since his debut, 1989’s Let Love Rule. Namely peace, love, and unity. Lenny lays down a very positive message on his new LP, Raise Vibration. And let’s face it, if his message resonates… he may just save the lives of millions of registered voters… at least I hope there are millions of registered voters who dig Lenny’s message. And I hope they vote.

I’m on record admitting I’m a huge Lenny fan. I’m the second biggest Lenny fan in my house after the Rock Chick. I can’t tell about the cat… he may or may not dig Lenny but that’s how he is about everything, sort of “meh.: As I mentioned in my review of the fabulous first single from this album, “Its Enough,” (Lenny Kravitz: New Single, “It’s Enough,” His Inner City Blues Are A Smooth Groove) similar to my wife’s love of Lenny, it was a girlfriend who turned me onto his first album, the previously mentioned, Let Love Rule. If it weren’t how badly things ended, I’d probably call that ex and thank her for turning me onto Lenny’s music. I don’t want to replay the “girl throws phone” episode of my youth…but I digress. The height of everybody’s Lenny fandom, when you ask them, is typically Are You Gonna Go My Way, probably his masterwork. I stuck around for the dark, groovy little record that followed, Circus. When he released 5, it was such an uneven record, even after he added the single, “American Woman” to deluxe copies of the CD, I got off the bandwagon.

A while ago, the Rock Chick turned me onto his 2014 album, Strut (LP Review: Lenny Kravitz, “Strut” – How’d I Miss This Sexy Album?). I love that sexy, rocking album. That record sent me digging through Lenny’s back catalog and I realized he’d started a bit of a late (or perhaps for Lenny, a middle-) career renaissance. It’s Time For A Love Revolution, while a bit mellow was a strong album. Black and White America is a fabulous record, I almost like it as much as Strut. Needless to say, excitement was running high here at B&V for this year’s Raise Vibration. I’m sad to say though, despite the great energy and the positive message, this album left me a little lost. It’s a bit of a mess…although it’s still sexy enough to call a hot mess. Let’s face it, Kravitz probably makes folding his laundry look sexy. Am I right, ladies?

Lenny Kravitz plays most if not all of the instruments on his records. His long time lead guitar player, cool Afro-sporting dude, Craig Ross typically plays the solos, but other than that it’s all Lenny, except backing vocals or horns. Kravitz was actually the drummer in Slash’s first band when they were in high school. Naturally when you can do so many things well, you’re more willing to try a lot more things. And believe me, there’s a lot that Lenny tries on this record. Many people dismiss Lenny as derivative, and yes, I can spot the influences, but he has a way of making music that reminds you of someone else while still staying completely Lenny.

For me, the emotional center and best track on here remains “It’s Enough.” It reminds me of What’s Goin’ On era Marvin Gaye. It even has a trumpet solo. Gaye did some great protest, social-commentary music on that album, and that palette is the perfect setting for Lenny’s message. Beyond that, there are a lot of highlights here. After staring with a middling, midtempo rocker that left me a little cold, “We Can Get It Together,” (which could be considered the theme here), Lenny takes a left turn into a soulful, sexy groove on “Low.” “Low” may be an act of seduction or a pro-LGBTQ statement, I still can’t tell. Either way it’s a great song. The title track starts with an abrasive guitar riff that brings to mind John Lennon’s “I Found Out,” but Lenny loses me at the end when he tacks on an Indigenous people drum/chants thing. It’s a bit baffling to end a nice rock tune that way. I thought only the Cult did that.

Another highlight is the acoustic “Johnny Cash.” The track is about when Lenny lost his beloved mother, Roxie, and Johnny Cash reached out and consoled him. Which, lets face it, makes me love Johnny Cash even more. So while the song is about Roxie, it’s told through the prism of Johnny Cash’s generosity of spirit. I like “5 More Days Til Summer,” I even put it on my Eclectic Summer Playlist, BourbonAndVinyl Eclectic Summer/Sun/Beach Playlist) on Spotify, but there’s this annoying chorus where a group of high school girls sings “one, two, three, four, five.” Lenny… really? It’s a cheesy moment in a great song. He’s throwing a lot into some of these songs, too much at times. “The Majesty Of Soul” is the great kind of soulful, funky tune Lenny was born to sing.

But along the lines of throwing everything he’s got at this record… Lenny does what amounts to a Prince tribute on the awful, almost electronic “Who Really Are the Monsters?” The song even has a Prince-like guitar solo. I preferred Janelle Monae’s recent record, “Make Me Feel” as a tribute to Prince vs this. Yes, I listen to Janelle Monae, she’s awesome and she’s from Kansas City. “Here To Love” is an overwrought, depressing piano ballad, ending in Lenny holding a note until it sounds like his voice broke. “Gold Dust” is the kind of slinky, funky track that Lenny should leave alone… “Ride” and “I’ll Always Be Inside Your Soul” are alright tracks to end it, but nothing that really grabs me. The album left me feeling very similar to how I felt when I heard 5 for the first time. It’s a bit of an uneven record, with some great tracks on it.

I’m disappointed to say I can’t recommend this album, as a whole. There are certainly songs that you should check out like “Low” or “It’s Enough.” But on the whole this is a slinky, sexy, hot mess. There’s a lot to like on this album, but too much goes wrong. I love that Lenny is out there preaching the gospel of Peace and Love… Ringo can’t do it all by himself.

Cheers and stay positive out there folks… storm clouds have already gathered. Take care of each other and steer toward the light.

 

 

 

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