Kravitz brings old-school rock sound to new album

by Mark Sweeney | 11/1/01 6:00am

Lenny Kravitz has made a career out of copying other musicians.

Not that this is a bad thing. Kravitz's borrowing of styles and influences from the '60s, 70's and '80s has produced some great records. Add in Kravitz's commendable musical and performance skills, and it's not hard to see why he has become one of the preeminent figures in rock and roll today.

Kravitz's sixth release, "Lenny," is not different to his previous efforts -- a sprawling but fun record full of retro-rock. In fact, it stands as his best work since 1993's "Are You Gonna Go My Way?"

The album begins with the hard rock riff of "Battlefield of Love" (not to be confused with Pat Benetar's 1983 hit "Love is a Battlefield") and follows with the bass-driven "If I Could Fall in Love." Both tracks set a lumbering, purposeful tone behind forceful drumming and scorching guitar riffs. At this point, Kravitz positions himself as this millennium's Randy Bachman with his guitar-driven classic rock.

The third track, "Yesterday Is Gone (My Dear Kay)," shifts the focus of the album for the first time and sounds like it belongs alongside Warrant and Poison on an '80s ballads album. Everything about this song is pure power ballad, from the tame acoustic opening to the shameless orchestrations to the soaring guitar solo.

On the fifth track, Kravitz begins to tread on unfamiliar ground. "Believe In Me" juxtaposes Kravitz's vocal over a hip-hop beat, and eventually throws in some flamenco-ish guitar for good measure; it all ends up as a mess. The next tune, a Prince rip-off named "Pay to Play" doesn't work either.

The Beatles-esque "A Million Miles Away" combines the sounds of McCartney's prominent bass, Ringo's militaristic drumming and a vintage George Harrison guitar solo for the album's return to classic rock. However, even this effort seems a bit forced and gets caught up in its own sappiness.

"God Save Us All" is another interesting amalgamation, as the song's upbeat feel -- which is very reminiscent of Journey -- is thrown together with Kravitz's preachy lyrics. Again, it doesn't quite work out, as his somewhat formulaic sermons ("Let's get together, this world needs us to do right") lack the necessary conviction to get his intended message across.

The album, however, finishes strongly. The first single, "Dig In," is a tight, driving rocker that returns the record to its initial classic rock feel. Next is a slightly misguided but intriguing progressive rock attempt called "You Were In My Heart," complete with a fusion of classical and electronica into a dark, sonorous whole.

The album's highlight occurs with the song "Bank Robber Man," which chronicles an actual event where Kravitz was mistaken for a criminal and apprehended by Miami police. The tune is a blazing, all-out rocker, and starts with the same explosion that would be present in a Motrhead song.

The final track, "Let's Get High," brings the album full-circle with its plodding bass line and return to a full-fledged arena rock sound.

Overall, Kravitz puts together a listenable record, and it actually is less sprawling than his earlier efforts. The album is dominated by Kravitz's solid if unspectacular guitar work, which at times makes the listener wish for more refined musicianship.

The main faults of the record occur as Kravitz strives to modernize his music by incorporating hip-hop influences. This only serves to demonstrate how firmly entrenched in the music of the '60s, '70s an '80s Kravitz really is, as these attempts fall flat.

However, when Kravitz sticks to his trademark retro-rock, it stands as some of the best work of his career and provides a refreshing sound evocative of past rock greats.