Imagine someone starting their career with an R&B band in the mid-60s. Then they got swept away on a late '60s peace/love psychedelic trip. Managing to survive that with their minds still relatively intact they find themselves nearly a decade later in the Bowery playing Punk at CBGBs. Of course, no such person ever existed - the timeline, not to mention the philosophical and emotional leaps, are too daunting. Yet that's exactly what Lenny Kravitz sounds like. He compresses these diverse and often contradictory influences into a potent sound.
Kravitz came from a showbiz family. His mother was an actress appearing on "The Jefferson's" TV series and his dad worked at NBC. Kravitz appeared in various commercials, Burger King among them, and TV shows, including a Bill Cosby special). Along the way Kravitz taught himself guitar, piano, bass and drums while developing a growing appreciation for Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin.
His first CD hit in '90 following his marriage to "Cosby kid" Lisa Bonet. "Let Love Rule" didn't do much but it contained the title track, which was released as a single, with a cover of John Lennon's "Cold Turkey" on the B-side. Aside from covering John Lennon, Kravitz also recorded a version of "Deuce" for "KISS My Ass," and locked on the Guess Who's "American Woman."
"Let Love Rule" nailed Kravitz a spot on Tom Petty's tour. On the downside side, Kravitz co-wrote Madonna's hit "Justify My Love." But it got worse. From the second album, "Mama Said," Kravitz had his first major hit, a weak retro-Soul ballad aimed at his now ex-wife Bonet, "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over."
After writing a song for Aerosmith ("Line Up") with Steve Tyler and Joe Perry, Kravitz really showed what he could do with his third CD "Are You Gonna Go My Way." The title track was a riveting riff-driven Rocker that would have made Hendrix proud. And though the song had an obvious late-60s influence, Kravitz provided the punch to make it contemporary.
"Circus," issued in '95, was successful. "5" rolled out in '98. The CD possessed his best song to date, the irrepressible "Fly Away." The album stayed on the Billboard charts for over two years. "Greatest Hits" arrived two years later. But Kravitz wasn't done. The relatively subdued '01 release "Lenny" was followed by "comeback" album "Minister Of Rock 'N Roll" in '04.
"We've all got our voice," said Kravitz discussing his 8th eighth album, "It Is Time For A Love Revolution." "And if I have this gift to play music, then I'm gonna talk about love." The '08 set contained the singles, "Bring It On," with Anoushka Shankar's (Ravi's daughter) sitar and "I'll Be Waiting."
A couple bouts with bronchitis caused the cancellation of shows in Canada, Mexico, Italy and South America. However, Kravitz was honored in Milan for his work with the United Nations Millennium Campaign to end world poverty.
Kravtiz was selected to open a handful of U2 shows on the second North American leg of their 360 Tour. But U2's frontman, Bono, suffered a back injury that postponed the tour.
In the meantime, Kravitz began work on his 9th album. The '11 set was tentatively titled "Funk," but renamed "Negrophilia," before finally becoming "Black And White America."
1989 Let Love Rule
1991 Mama Said
1993 Are You Gonna Go My Way
2008 It Is Time For A Love Revolution)
2011 Black And White America
A mixture of Hendrix, Funk and a near lethal dose of pop, Lenny Kravitz has produced one excellent album. "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" with the blistering title track and "Circus" stand above the rest. The other CDs, "Let Love Rule," "Mama Said" and "5" have their moments. Also, Kravitz is a fairly reliable hit machine ranging from the pop "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" to the Rockin' "Fly Away." " Greatest Hits" released in '00 is just that and is a good place to catch Kravitz's stylistic range through the '90s.
"Lenny," despite rowdy tracks like "Dig In" and "If I Could Fall In Love," takes a pop/mainstream approach. That might help sell CDs but it doesn't do much for people who want to Rock.
It was Kravitz' bad luck to release a comeback album on the heels of Prince doing the very same thing. That puts "Minister Of Rock 'N Roll" in a deep funk shadow. Both Kravitz and Prince have spent their lengthy careers merging Funk and Rock but Prince is far better, and more successful at it. To make matters increasingly difficult, the title track and first cut is a slow Funk jam not the implied hot Rocker. Still, "I Don't Want To Be A Star" and the economical, chord driven "California" have some teeth. The latter has the reflective line "I wasn't ready for the other side the day I got there."
Though "It's Time For A Love Revolution" has Rock songs and ballads, it's the mid-tempo material that dominates. The Rock is undeniable. "Love Revolution" and the shout-out "Bring It On" get the album off to a terrific start. Once those songs are done the album downshifts with the mid-tempo tracks being more hit and miss. The best of the lot is "Dancin' Till Dawn" with its irresistible groove. Not surprisingly, given Kravitz's level of craftsmanship, the ballads, "I'll Be Waiting," "I Love The Rain" and "This Moment Is All There Is," with a great guitar part, are excellent. However, another slow tune, "A Long Sad Goodbye" is overwrought.
Stuck in the middle, where no one expects it, Kravitz uncorks the noisy little romp, "Will You Marry Me." It's the kind of song you wish there were more of.
"Back In Vietnam" grabs attention, not only for being a hot sounding, fierce track but also for its lyrical swipe at the Iraq War. It's not about some vet suffering flashbacks but rather the inescapable parallels between the two conflicts.
"We do just what we want and don't care if it isn't legal
We're on a horse that is high, we think we're so damn regal."
That pretty much says it.
The title, "Black And White America," is a dead giveaway regarding the album's subject matter - namely, the racial slights and challenges Kravitz had to endure as the child of an interracial marriage.
The album is often a letter perfect reflection of mid-'70's R&B. The title track, with its' synth strings, "Looking Back On Love" and "Superlove," which sounds like a Brothers Johnson track, are the most evocative of that era.
"Come On Get It" comes off like James Brown fronting Grand Funk Railroad and "Rock Star City Life" tosses in some synth Go-Go's keyboards. Jay Z ("Boongie Drop") and Drake's ("The Faith Of A Child") contributions don't amount to much but "In The Black" is uplifting and the ballad "Liquid Jesus" allows Kravitz to show off an impressive falsetto. "Stand" demonstrates that he still has pop-Rock chops in his repertoire.