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Lenny Kravitz, 'Mama Said'

Mama Said  (1991,  53.04)  ***/T

Fields of Joy
Always on the Run
Stand By My Woman
It Ain't Over 'Til it's Over
More Than Anything in This World
What Goes Around Comes Around
Difference is Why
Stop Draggin' Around
Flowers for Zoë
Fields of Joy (Reprise)
All I Ever Wanted
When the Morning Turns to Night
What the Fuck Are We Saying?
Butterfly
Lenny Kravitz, 'Are You Gonna Go My Way'

Are You Gonna Go My Way  (1993,  46.45)  ***/½

Are You Gonna Go My Way
Believe
Come on and Love Me
Heaven Help
Just Be a Woman
Is There Any Love in Your Heart
Black Girl
My Love
Sugar
Sister
Eleutheria
Lenny Kravitz, 'Circus'

Circus  (1995,  51.03)  ***½/T½

Rock and Roll is Dead
Circus
Beyond the 7th Sky
Tunnel Vision
Can't Get You Off My Mind
Magdalene
God is Love
Thin Ice
Don't Go and Put a Bullet in Your Head
In My Life Today
Resurrection
Lenny Kravitz, '5'

5  (1999,  66.34)  ***/T

Live
Supersoulfighter
I Belong to You
Black Velveteen
If You Can't Say No
Thinking of You
Take Time
Fly Away
It's Your Life
Straight Cold Player
Little Girl's Eyes
You're My Flavor
Can We Find a Reason?
Lenny Kravitz, 'Baptism'

Baptism  (2004,  58.40)  ***/½

Minister of Rock'n'Roll
I Don't Want to Be a Star
Lady
Calling All Angels
California
Sistamamalover
Where Are We Runnin'?
Baptized
Flash
What Did I Do With My Life?
Storm
The Other Side
Destiny
Lenny Kravitz, 'It is Time for a Love Revolution'

It is Time for a Love Revolution  (2008,  73.18)  ***/T½

Love Revolution
Bring it on
Good Morning
Love Love Love
If You Want it
I'll Be Waiting
Will You Marry Me
I Love the Rain
A Long and Sad Goodbye
Dancin' Til Dawn
This Moment is All There is
A New Door
Back in Vietnam
I Want to Go Home
[Bonus tracks:
Uncharted Terrain
Confused]
Lenny Kravitz, 'Black & White America'

Black & White America  (2011,  65.57)  ***/½

Black and White America
Come on Get it
In the Black
Liquid Jesus
Rock Star City Life
Boongie Drop
Stand

Superlove
Everything
I Can't Be Without You
Looking Back on Love
Life Ain't Ever Been Better Than it is Now
The Faith of a Child
Sunflower
Dream
Push
'A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield'

A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield  (1994,  6.18)  **½/½

[Lenny Kravitz contributes]
Billy Jack

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

Lenny Kravitz released his first album, Let Love Rule in 1989, at the grand old age of 27, following it two years later with Mama Said, another amalgam of rock, funk, soul and blues, veering wildly between styles from track to track. Major hit It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over is a cheesy funk tune, What Goes Around Comes Around has a strong soul influence, Stop Draggin' Around is pure Hendrix-inspired funk-rock... You get the picture. No actual balls-out rock, but you can't have everything, I suppose. Mellotron on two tracks, with flutes right at the outset, on Fields Of Joy, and a distant string part on What The Fuck Are We Saying?, but nothing you couldn't live without, to be honest.

Are You Gonna Go My Way, another two years on, opens with probably Kravitz' best track (personal opinion, natch) in the title track, a Hendrixy slice of all-out rock, with a groove to die for, with a similar, though more Zeppelinesque effort in Is There Any Love In Your Heart later on. 'Tron strings on cheesy ballad Believe, quite clearly doubled with real strings; actually, that reminds me that I heard, somewhere down the line, that he's quite fond of doing that, for fuck alone what reason. What's the point of using a Mellotron, then... Oh, never mind. Same bizarre trick on Just Be A Woman, but that's your lot.

Circus, yet another two years on, is a far rockier proposition, opening with the excellent Rock And Roll Is Dead, barely venturing into 'dodgy soul ballad' territory at all this time, although the pace slacks off rather towards the end of the album. Two good 'Tron tracks this time round, with strings all the way through God Is Love, and not a lot less on closer Resurrection, making this album easily his best yet; in my humble opinion, of course... More of the usual on the cunningly-titled 5. His fans may disagree, but to my ears it's the usual mixture of rock, funk and soul again, hinting at more contemporary Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and others, but without ever really being Kravitz himself; it seems that he's the sum of his influences, without actually transcending them too often. He uses more modern technology this time round, without letting it take over; loops and samples fit seamlessly with '70s funk guitar, Rhodes and Moogs, without moving into dreaded 'R&B' country. Only one 'Tron track here, with a reasonable background string part on Black Velveteen.

After 2001's Mellotron-free Lenny, it's back on '04's Baptism, though only for one track. The album lies somewhere between the rockier approach of Circus and his earlier work, though it still seems to be thankfully free of too much over-emoting. The Mellotron on the rather good opener, Minister Of Rock'n'Roll, only consists of a rising string line towards the end of the song, so don't go too far out of your way for this one. A four-year gap explains, while not exactly condoning It is Time for a Love Revolution's ridiculous length; nor does it condone the most clichéd lyrics imaginable, but hey, it's Lenny Kravitz! Amongst its better tracks are the opening title track, Bring It On, the funky Will You Marry Me and one of the Japanese edition's bonus tracks, the Zeppelinesque (again) slow blues Confused. Mellotronically speaking, Kravitz plays strings on Love Love Love, I Love The Rain (the album's best ballad) and I Want To Go Home, all to passable, if not outstanding effect.

2011's not-quite-as-lengthy Black & White America starts well, the opening title track being one of the strongest songs Kravitz has written in some time, but, as so often, the disc is diluted by below-par material that has 'filler' written all over it. Other better tracks include Come On Get It, Rock Star City Life and Everything, but I doubt whether I'm the only listener who'd prefer it if he left material like Liquid Jesus (surely not named for the band of the same name?) and Boongie Drop on the cutting-room floor. Kravitz plays Mellotron, although it's only obvious on two tracks, with orchestral-ish strings on Boongie Drop and a cello line on Stand.

Ultimately, Kravitz strikes me as having fairly limited talent, but has sustained a career for two decades by dint of hard work, image, knowing just who to, er, 'borrow' from and the occasional memorable hook. That sounds a bit harsh in the cold light of day, but playing several of his albums back-to-back hasn't suddenly revealed a previously-unsuspected well of classic material, more a previously-suspected surface skim of rather average, zeitgeist-surfing danceable rock, quite startling in its ordinariness. A few good tracks doth not a career make, Mr. Kravitz, except that they appear to have done exactly that. Anyway, as far as I can work out, that makes two decent Mellotron tracks over his entire career, both on the same album, which also seems to be his most dynamic. So, get Circus if you see it cheap, but approach everything else with caution.

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See: Vanessa Paradis | Cree Summer | A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield


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