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Lone Lenny
Kravitz does it again


At this point, you know where you stand on Lenny Kravitz ó either you love his soul-power-meets-flower-power shtick or you hate it. Ever since his í89 debut, Let Love Rule (Virgin), this talented one-man band has earned his share of skeptics for aping the sound of classic rockers like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and pretty much everyone in between. For years, his defining moment was "Are You Gonna Go My Way," the title track to his third album and probably the most awe-inspiring Zep ripoff to conquer the airwaves since Whitesnakeís "Still of the Night." That was í93; it would be five years before he scored another smash, this time with the generic "Fly Away" and a pointless cover of the Guess Whoís "American Woman." Both tunes hailed from 5 (Virgin), the disc where he finally gave in to the lure of contemporary studio trickery but retained his retro songwriting bent.

The most powerful pop songs transcend both the artist and his shtick, however, and thatís where "Again," the huge new Kravitz single from last yearís Greatest Hits (Virgin), came in. Its lilting melody drifted skyward with half the effort and twice the impact of "Fly Away," and Kravitz the lyricist wore his heart on his sleeve as never before. "All of my life/Where have you been/I wonder if Iíll ever see you again," he warbled with a tinge of melancholy. For once, he sounded as if heíd fallen so head over heels that heíd forgotten to consult the classic-rock songbook before writing. The song was unmistakably Lenny, but you didnít have to be a Lenny fan to like it.

"Again" was originally slated for his sixth album, the new Lenny (Virgin), which never quite reaches the same heights but continues to establish him as a performer with his ears in the present as well as in the past. Written, performed, and produced almost entirely by Kravitz at his own Roxie Studios in Miami, it shows off his knack for both glossy modern pop and driving old-school rock. And like any good pop star of his magnitude, he knows how to exploit his image: the album cover, a head shot of Lenny in huge aviator sunglasses against a bright blue background, is as garishly chic as it gets. His music may have moved beyond the í70s, but the beefcake shots inside the booklet suggest his fashion sense never will.

The discís first single, "Dig In," is a bare-bones rocker with a positive message that sounds like a mellower version of "Are You Gonna Go My Way." Itís not exactly profound, but Kravitzís uncharacteristically snotty vocal contrasts nicely with the sweet choir of Lennys that rushes in on the chorus. He rocks out even harder on "Bank Robber Man," which was inspired by his recent run-in with Miami police over a false bank-robbery charge. "Do you think that I am the one who did it just because Iím tan?" he asks over a barreling garage-rock beat, seeming equally irked and bemused at his predicament. With long-time guitarist Craig Ross on board for a couple of flash solos but little else in the way of outside help, Kravitzís one-man bar band sounds hot as ever.

The fuzz-driven "If I Could Fall in Love" is the albumís finest moment, a rueful admission of the singerís romantic shortcomings that manages to crack a smile with its vocoder-induced head rush of a chorus. As authentically psychedelic as it is corny, itís a canny juxtaposition of Kravitzís retro cool and his studio smarts. The sinister electro-hop of "Believe in Me" is the discís boldest move, splitting the difference between cutting-edge and schmaltz with its melodramatic string arrangement. As a lyricist, Kravitz still relies on time-tested rock clichés more often than not, but the triumph of "Again" seems to have taught him that thereís nothing wrong with getting personal, either.

The closest the album gets to "Again" is "Stillness of Heart," which uses a similar rhythmic cadence but seeks redemption in a perfect world rather than a perfect soulmate. Kravitzís dreadlocks may be long gone and his music newly beat-conscious, but heís still an old-fashioned hippie at heart. He kicks into full-on "Hey Jude" mode with "God Save Us All," a lumbering blues-rock shuffle with a chorus you can hear coming a mile away. "Letís Get High" is even more obvious, especially when its incredibly lame-brained punch line ó "High on this feeling of love" ó rolls around. The thing is, once youíve made peace with Lenny, even his half-baked tie-dyed fantasies start to sound good. What can I say? God save us all.

Issue Date: November 1 - 8, 2001

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