Lenny

Lenny Kravitz

Virgin Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/21/2002

It's hardly surprising to catch an echo of agent 007's immortal punchline ("My name is Lenny. Lenny Kravitz.") here, when you consider the artist in question has never lacked for self-confidence, and has an artistic sense that seems permanently stuck in James Bond's 1965-75 golden era.

But really, the swagger projected by this album's packaging ("Hey, I've got an idea, let's name the album Lenny and plaster it with glamour shots of me and my piercings and tattoos and bitchin' wardrobe?") may be the biggest criticism I can level at it. The music itself is solid, and at times strong, if somewhat predictable.

Multiple-Grammy winner Kravitz has made his rep over the years by composing and assembling note-perfect homages to his musical idols, 60s and 70s classic rock/R&B icons like Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Stevie Wonder and Prince. The drums all have that fat, echo-ey, organic sound, the bass and guitar lines are chunky and distorted and, on the hard rock numbers, sometimes frenetic. The remarkable thing is how Kravitz manages to both imitate his predecessors and update their sound with crystal-clean 21st century production.

Kravitz isn't in so much of a Hendrix mood right now, though. With 2000's my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Greatest Hits he added a new element to his repertoire, the smooth, aching, very pretty ballad "Again." And he appears to have taken a lesson from that track's ascension to the Top Ten, bolstering Lenny with equally heartfelt and effective ballads like "Yesterday Is Gone (My Dear Kay)," "A Million Miles Away" and "Stillness Of Heart" (the latter featuring a superb string arrangement and outro). It's a niche he seems well-suited to fill, given both his fondness for smooth, romantic soul and the sad state of modern rock radio.

That's not to say there aren't some solid rockers on this album. In particular, "Dig In," the no-brainer first single, has a sturdy hook and upbeat chorus, along with some heavier play on the verses and bridge. "Bank Robber Man" is a great cut, too, Kravitz's brutally smart-ass reply to the idiot cops who arrested him last year because he bore a vague resemblance to a bank-robbing suspect. They picked the wrong guy to profile, though. It's like the old politicians' axiom about journalists - never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel (or blank CDs by the gross ton).

My favorite cut here, though, is probably "If I Could Fall In Love," in which Kravitz shifts gears repeatedly between resonant power chords and atmospheric acoustic strumming, and employs a number of clever, semi-psychedelic production effects that accent rather than distract from the song's basic drive. It's a tribute to the guy's musical craftsmanship that he's able to put together a track like this as essentially a one-man show, playing all instruments on most tracks while writing, arranged and producing the whole package himself.

All of which would probably be enough to give anyone a slight case of swollen ego. If only our man Lenny would apply those gifts with a consistency that would keep him away from songs like "Battlefield Of Love." How a guy with a talent as obvious as his ends up leading off an album with a howling dog of a track like this ("I am a prisoner, a prisoner of love, I have been captured and held underground") is beyond me to explain. By the first chorus, I was half-expecting Pat ("Love Is A Battlefield") Benatar to show up to sing the bridge. Needless to say, after that beginning, the rest of the disc came as a pleasant surprise.

All in all, Lenny is a solid - if unspectacular - effort from a talented artist. Is he capable of producing a more consistent disc than this one? No doubt, but something tells me he'll get another chance, especially if one of the ballads here takes off like "Again" did.

Rating: B

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© 2002 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin Records, and is used for informational purposes only.