Raise Vibration

Lenny Kravitz

Roxie, 2018

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/27/2019

Like its cover art, Lenny Kravitz’s 11th album opts for a sun-drenched vibe, offering pleasant lyrical platitudes and familiar sounds for a comfort-food love-filled day of relaxation.

Not that the disc is easy listening by any means, but its messages are of the universal sort that Kravitz has traded in for many years. From a summer anthem to an ode to his mother to non-specific pleas to love each other, Kravitz writes about everything and nothing all at once, offering only “vibrations of peace, love, and unity,” according to a prerelease statement.

In 2019, some might roll their eyes at such a corny sentiment, just as they did in 1971 with the “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke” theme during the Vietnam War. “There’s no room for hate / We are just one human race / We must rise above / We are here to love” is a sample lyric (from the piano ballad “Here To Love”), and most of the album follows suit. How you feel about the state of the country, and whether that message of unity appeals to you, will dictate how you feel about this disc at any given moment.

So it comes down to the music, and while the criticisms of Kravitz have been long and deep since the early ‘90s, it’s clear by now that he has found his own blend of classic rock, pop, funk and soul. And where most of Kravitz’s output post-Lenny has run together in a blur, there are some late-career standouts here worth hearing for Kravitz (or Prince, or Michael Jackson) fans. “Low” is a highlight, taking its time to ease into a midtempo funk beat and Kravitz alternating between his low and high register, punctuated with some Jackson-inspired “Hoo!”s, a great bassline and swelling synthesizers in the background.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Who Really Are The Monsters” is new ground for Kravitz, a kind of electro-funk hybrid with spoken-word verses, a cool guitar solo followed by a steel drum solo (!), a reprise of the verse/chorus, and then an extended saxophone solo to close the piece. It’s the most ambitious thing Kravitz has done in years, and along with “Low” is easily the coolest thing he’s released since at least 2008’s Love Revolution, if not before.

“It’s Enough” is a beast, a languid yet catchy eight-minute groove that reminds me of the best parts of Stevie Wonder’s epics on Songs In The Key Of Life, but with hints of Prince, Marvin Gaye, and Kravitz’s own long history. It’s not a song he could have pulled off in 1999, but here, it’s a darn good centerpiece and one of the few times the lyrics dip into protest territory. And once Kravitz has said what he needs to, he devotes the final three to a jam with tubular bells, a rubbery bassline, and a trumpet solo, before coming back in for a final verse. Oh, and this was the first single from the album, which is a ballsy choice.

The title cut does a twin vocal/guitar pairing but gets old fast and “Here To Love” is lovely but unmemorable, while “Johnny Cash” intercuts a story of meeting Cash with Kravitz’s memory of losing his mother (actress Roxie Roker, for whom Kravitz’s record label is named). It’s musically fine and rather personal, about the only time Kravitz goes this route on the record, which is a welcome change from all the “love everyone bro” pablum elsewhere. “5 More Days ‘Til Summer” is better than its title suggests, falling into ‘70s camp but – if you ignore the lyrics and the cheerleaders – offering a driving beat and a good guitar solo. I feel like this song could have been put to better use with better lyrics, but I haven’t won four Grammys in a row, so what do I know?

It is worth noting, as always, that Kravitz not only wrote, produced and arranged all the songs but also plays pretty much every instrument, with help from Craig Ross on some guitar parts and the outside string section (which Kravitz also arranged). Little of the instrumentation sounds electronic save maybe for the beat of “I’ll Be Inside Your Soul” and the overdriven fuzz of “Monsters,” meaning that this is Kravitz’s singular vision and statement of purpose. It’s not always cool, it’s not always what we need to hear, but it’s uniquely his, and it’s a pretty good album. If only the lyrics were as creative and engrossing as the music.

Rating: B-

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