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

MI0004480202

“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.

 

 

 

Lenny Kravitz: New Single, “It’s Enough,” His Inner City Blues Are A Smooth Groove

https---images.genius.com-429f4b4fce78631e6654f32cef1b1287.320x320x1

*Image above taken from the internet and is likely copyrighted

When it comes to Lenny Kravitz, I think I’m like most males, I was introduced to his music in the early 90s by a girlfriend. In the early days of his career I think he was the polar opposite of Aerosmith who once said the only “chicks” at their shows were the ones they brought with them – I feel like Lenny’s early fans were mostly female. I remember a woman I was dating putting on his great debut album, Let Love Rule. I really dug his hippy vibe and laid back grooves and who doesn’t love dreadlocks? The big hit from that album was the anthem, “Let Love Rule” and it was an instant classic. His music wasn’t all about love and peace, he could get topical and political in songs like “Mr. Cab Driver,” which was actually my favorite track on the album.

But after that, like the girlfriend who turned me onto his music, I lost track of Lenny for a few years. I vaguely remember hearing “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over” in the background, but his second album didn’t really pull me in. By then he was married to Lisa Bonet, which I truly envied, (she was my movie star crush) and he’d become somewhat of a tabloid star. I don’t know if I was put off by that, or I just wasn’t paying attention. Likely it was the latter. But then in 1993 (could it really have been that long ago?) the monster album Are You Gonna Go My Way came out. We were all on the bandwagon at that point. The title track is a ferocious rock song. I remained a big Kravitz fan through Circus, a dark little album which the critics hated and I absolutely loved, and his creatively titled fifth album. But once again, I started to lose track of Lenny. It may have been because was a bit uneven or maybe it was alternative rock radio beating “Again” the track from his Greatest Hits album to death. As break-up prone as I was, I couldn’t get away from that song…”will I ever see you again?” Let me answer that for you folks, for the most part, no, you won’t.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that, yes, once again a woman, the Rock Chick came home and said, you’ve gotta hear this album. It was Lenny’s 2014 LP, Strut. I loved that album, reviewed on B&V, LP Review: Lenny Kravitz, “Strut” – How’d I Miss This Sexy Album?. I’m still not sure how that album had come out and slipped through the cracks for me… I blame radio. That record sent me scurrying back to the record store to pick up a couple more of his albums I’d missed… It’s Time For A Love Revolution and Black And White America both of which are great records everybody should check out. After hearing those three albums, I was back in a serious Lenny Kravitz infatuation. It’s with high anticipation here at B&V that we look forward to his upcoming follow-up record to Strut, coming in September, named Raise Vibration. 

The first single from that album was released recently, “It’s Enough.” Now, I’ll be one of the first to admit that Lenny Kravitz wears his influences on his sleeve, as the saying goes. He’s often accused of being derivative, that’s the most common trope I hear from the critics. My thoughts on the matter tend to align with what Picasso said, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” I’m not suggesting Lenny is ripping anybody off, but this new song strongly reminds me of the late, great Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Want To Holler).” I’ve been going back and forth between both songs for the last couple of days and there are similarities.

All that said, I love this song. “It’s Enough” clocks in at almost eight minutes long and yet when it ends, I feel like I want it to keep going. Like the song it was influenced by, Kravitz’s lyrics address (literally) a world of problems we face today: gun violence, the middle east, greed, and the environment just to name a few. I think it’s pretty gutsy to put the following line in your chorus, almost ensuring this won’t be played on the radio, “it’s enough, it’s enough, and we are all just getting fucked.” Kravitz has done something unimaginable, he’s made a groove-laden protest record.

Musically, this is a nice slow groove. It starts with some nice percussive elements. Like “Inner City Blues” Lenny employs a lot of non lyrical singing that acts like percussion. The percussion and a subtle piano drive the song forward. The bass line is simply monstrous. There’s a spoken word piece in the middle. This song is so Motown there’s even a trumpet solo toward the end. If we harken back to the 60s, people tend to forget that’s when all the best protest music was recorded and that’s what this song evokes for me. Like “Mr. Cab Driver” before it, Lenny has his fingers on the pulse of how a lot of people feel today… sad that we’ve come this far and not gotten anywhere. The music and the lyrics of this song are so spot on. The Rock Chick likes her Lenny a little more hard edged and rockier, but I dig the slow groove of this song. Everyone should check this one out.

Cheers!