Born in Manhattan's Upper East Side in 1964, young Lenny was aspiring to music from an early age. Well supported by his family (his father was a jazz promoter and friends with Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan and Miles Davis, amongst others) there was always music in the house. Motown, rare groove, jazz and Philly Soul were domestic favourites and his mother, a successful actress, also encouraged him to widen his scope and familiarise himself with classical, opera and drama. In Los Angeles, where the family relocated for a while, Lenny become immersed in rock and progressive British music, giving him a rounded education in the whole kit and caboodle.
Returning to the East Coast Kravitz made demos in Hoboken studios and by 1988 he was ready to shop for a deal. Virgin offered him the most creative outlet and the sounds began to emanate. The debut Let Love Rule was an audacious blend of rock, funk and soul and with wife Lisa Bonet directing his first music video for the title cut and prestigious support slots with Tom Petty and David Bowie ensuing, the die was cast. Let Love Rule's attractions spread by word of mouth. The album charted respectably high and would eventually sell over two million copies. It remains a well loved disc and anyone who hasn't yet heard the many stand outs like 'I Build This Garden For Us', 'Mr Cab Driver' or 'Rosemary' is in for a rare treat.
It's the perfect place to start discovering Kravitz and will surely send you straight to Mama Said. Somewhat less poppy than the debut this is a deeply satisfying melange of psychedelia and fine funk rock. The harder metal types had also pricked up their ears to the man, sensing an element of Jimi Hendrix in his flamboyant stage act and admiring his ability to master the basic tools of his trade guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. Such precocious talent didn't stop Kravitz pulling off a mature suite of songs. Slash from Guns N'Roses guests here on 'Always on the Run' while the big hit single 'It Ain't Over til It's Over' was entirely self-made. Kravitz would like to have directed his video but left that to one Jakob Dylan. And the bass guitar on many of the other tracks? That's Roger Waters.
Having friends in high places didn't do Lenny any harm at all. He was on course to achieve his goals because of his talent, not in spite of it. It was also a case of, you ain't seen nothing yet because third album, Are You Gonna Go My Way (1993) simply tore up the rulebook racing up charts and shifting by the Platinum load. Quite right too because it's a classic, up there with Lenny's own heroes like John Lennon, Prince and Hendrix. Classy ballads, reggae rhythms and the sweetest soul melodies abound. This is the kind of disc made for listening to anywhere from the dashboard of your car to the headboard in your bedroom. A sexy, sassy thing it won rave reviews and ensured that Kravitz's ravenous fan base remained satisfied. And Lenny didn't, as one might expect, keep all the glory to himself. His guitar partner Craig Ross delivers the goods too, co-writing the title cut and 'My Love' and decorating the centrepiece track 'Is There Any Love In Your Heart' with some blistering fretwork.
Having climbed the stardom ladder Kravitz certainly hadn't peaked, either artistically or too soon. Typically, he turned the whole notion of fame on its head with the controversial Circus that lays about the business in general and life in particular. The compelling 'Rock and Roll Is Dead' was taken literally in some quarters but Lenny reckoned many critics simply missed his point - he was not being deadly serious. Incidentally The Artist Formerly Known as Prince upped the ante for Kravitz when he recorded a track called 'Rock 'N' Roll Is Alive (And It Lives in Minneapolis)'. Nothing like some healthy competition, especially in America, which needed gingering up. Elsewhere, Lenny took a few cool gulps and tackled some heavy religious affairs. Nothing if not brave. Because this album was a puzzle to many at the time it's now worthy of a second look.
The aptly named 5 (recorded at Compass Point, Nassau) saw Kravitz embracing a lot of digital and electronic technology. His retro image had been overstated if truth were known, he is a contemporary artist not a relic, but he has never been averse to borrowing classic 70s colours and updating them. The lovely 'Fly Away' wouldn't disgrace Shuggie Otis while 'elong to You' reminded one that Lenny had a deep love for melodic reggae. But of course 'Fly Away' is the song that British audiences identify with. It became an anthem in December 1998, topping the UK charts. So successful was 5 that it was soon bumped up with Lenny's next single, a cover of 'American Woman' (by The Guess Who) which features in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Two more Grammies ensued.
What better way to usher in the year 2000 than with a Greatest Hits? Lenny did and then found he'd got a genuine monster on his hands. Greatest Hits has itself sold over 21 million copies to date, an extraordinary achievement until you start to consider the ingredients in the running order. This is classic pop music and a soundtrack for the new age.
Maintaining form with Lenny, Lenny went out on a limb again with Baptism which though it reverts to some of the classic rock tropes of earlier days also majors in hard hitting, adult problems. Having shelved plans to make this an all-out superfly funk soul thang Lenny found he had more pressing affairs to confront. On 'Where Are We Runnin'?' he addresses the problems of the rock and roll star lifestyle. 'Storm' is a reworking of a song that Lenny gave to Michael Jackson but it never made the cut so he rescued it and with rapper Jay Z turned the track on its head. Another strong disc, Baptism also contains the hit 'Lady' (written for Nicole Kidman), and the poignant juxtaposition of 'Minister of Rock 'n Roll' and 'I Don't Want To Be A Star', which seems to address his own career flight as he hit his 40th birthday.
Four years later Kravitz posited It Is Time for a Love Revolution. A fantastic slew of alt. rock, psychedelia and his hybrid rock and soul, his eight studio album is available as an Expanded Edition with bonus cuts from earlier discs, interviews and 5.1 Surround Video material on 'Let Love Rule' and 'Rock and Roll is Dead'. Must hear cuts are the power ballad 'I'll Be Waiting', the after-hours and atmospheric 'Dancin' Til Dawn' and the title track 'Love Revolution' that turns up the funk button to eleven.
That's not all of course because apart from the iTunes Live exclusive there is the 20th Anniversary Edition of Let Love Rule, a deluxe expanded 2-disc set including Lenny's live version of 'Cold Turkey', some charged performances of 'Mr. Cab Driver' and 'Blues for Sister Someone', an 11 minute 'Let Love Rule' and a great assault on Hendrix's 'If 6 was 9'. Pretty essential. Same goes for Mama Said (21st Anniversary Deluxe Edition), which is packed with demos and alternates. An updated joy. As often in this series there's also the chance to discover the artist via the 5 Album Set - Lenny's opening handful. Nuff said.
Are you gonna go his way? Seems like a pretty good idea.
Words - Max Bell
The title is a tip-off: Lenny Kravitz is a hippie, something that was commonplace 20 years before his debut, Let Love Rule, and was familiar five years later when he scaled the charts with Are You Gonna Go My Way, but was practically unheard of in 1989 when the Grateful Dead were reaping the benefits of hippies turning into establishment. Kravitz had yet to become a classic rock caricature and he could still surprise on this unformed, endearingly unwieldy first record, where he split the difference between John Lennon, Curtis Mayfield, David Bowie, and Prince, sometimes exhibiting too clear of a debt to his idols but more often getting by on a combination of chutzpah and pastiche, something that winds up as an enormously appealing guilty pleasure.
Kravitz has a tendency to overreach lyrically, striving to speak deep truths about big themes from world peace to child abuse, but the winning thing about Let Love Rule is how it plays as sheer sound, evoking memories of the paisley-drenched '60s and the lush sounds of '70s soul, all filtered through the multicultural flowering of the late '80s. Remarkably for an album that's essentially the work of a one-man band, Let Love Rule never feels stiff or insular -- it feels roomy and open, testament to Kravitz's talents as a producer -- but the record remains one of his best because it also has one of his greatest collections of songs, chief among them the stately, psychedelic march of "I Build This Garden for Us," the hippie-funk of "Sittin' on Top of the World," the Hendrixian riffs of "Freedom Train," the urban groove of "Mr. Cab Driver," and the surging "Let Love Rule," songs that created Kravitz's sound and persona and remain among his most engaging work.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Moving forward a couple years from the psychedelic fixations of his debut, Mama Said finds Lenny Kravitz in the early '70s, trying to graft Curtis Mayfield and Jimi Hendrix influences to his Prince and Lennon obsessions. This time around, he synthesizes his influences better; it's essentially a seamless record, with all of its classic rock homages so carefully produced that it sounds as if it could have been released in 1972. Kravitz's songcraft has gotten better as well, with the swirling Philly soul of "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" and the rampaging Sly Stone-meets-Hendrix "Always on the Run" standing out as instantly addictive singles.
Still, some of the joy that informed Let Love Rule has worn off, largely because it's more polished and studied than its predecessor. That, however, doesn't prevent Mama Said from being another thoroughly enjoyable guilty pleasure -- its sweet soul and fuzzy hard rock are slyly seductive. Ironically for such an inviting record, Mama Said is Kravitz's divorce album, yet it never quite conveys any true pain or emotion, since he puts sound over substance. Essentially, the lyrics are afterthoughts, but with a record as immaculately produced and sonically pleasurable as Mama Said, it doesn't really matter that it's talking loud and saying nothing, because it sounds good while it's talking.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The cover indicates that Are You Gonna Go My Way is Lenny Kravitz's bid for rock stardom. Designed in the style of an early-'70s record, it features Kravitz in hippie clothing, apparently exposing himself to a photographer -- in other words, he's a dangerously sexy counterculture rebel. That may have been true in 1970, but in 1993, he simply sounds like a weird sideshow exhibit, the man who never lived past 1973. Of course, it's easy to make such potshots, but Kravitz opens himself up to such attacks. No other artist, especially a successful one, has been quite so devoted to the past and ignorant of the present. Since he has considerable talent for songcraft and production, Kravitz isn't nearly as bad as he could be, and Are You Gonna Go My Way is just as enjoyable and more accomplished than its predecessors.
This time around, Hendrix is his chief influence, as evidenced by the roaring title track, and he does expand that with his traditional Lennon, Curtis Mayfield, and Prince obsessions. Song for song, it's his most consistent album, although by the end of the record, his painstaking reproduction of classic rock sounds begins to appear a bit too studied, suggesting that Kravitz may have hit a creative wall. Nevertheless, that does nothing to diminish the enjoyment of this record.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Lenny’s 6th album that was released in October 2001 was recorded in Miami – the song ‘Bank Robber Man’ was written after Lenny had been arrested by the Miami police for a bank robbery – it ended in a case of mistaken identity. The first single from this album was ‘Dig In’ – the video was to have been shot at the top of the Empire State Building but the location had to change due to the terrorist attacks of September 2001 at the World Trade Centre. Further singles followed with ‘Stillness of the Heart’, ‘Believe in Me’ and ‘If I could Fall in Love’. With yet another Grammy following in 2002 – his 4th
5 is the fifth studio album by American rock musician Lenny Kravitz, released on May 12, 1998 by Virgin Records America. The album featured hits such as "Fly Away" and "I Belong to You", which helped Kravitz to expand his success in Europe. The album won two Grammys.
Released in 1995 this was Lenny’s 4th album – it became his first Top 10 album in the US and his second in the UK. Lenny was having a particularly fraught time around the making of this album as his mother was seriously ill and was having difficulties handling the music business. It spawned four singles, ‘Rock n Roll is Dead’, ‘Circus’, ‘Can’t Get you Off My Mind’ and ‘The Resurrection’. Very much a rock based album with Jimmy Page and John Bonham riffs. According to Rolling Stone magazine, they said of Kravitz “ he is a master studio craftsman whose encyclopedic knowledge of vintage gadgetry is impressive”.
Released in the Summer of 2004 it is Lenny’s 7th studio album. This was originally to be “a funk album” but he changed his mind after picking up an acoustic guitar and found the songs came easily – as a result it's a more straightforward rock album. Five singles were taken from Baptism, ‘Where are we Runnin?’, ‘California’, ‘Storm’, ‘Calling all Angels’ and ‘Lady’. Kravitz supported its released with extensive touring in America where he became one of the faces of a Gap clothing campaign in which they also used the song ‘Lady’ in commercials.
Never let it be said that Lenny Kravitz lives in the past: he knows 2008 is all about the resurrection of Led Zeppelin, so he's constructed It Is Time for a Love Revolution as a virtual tribute to Zep. Kravitz turns his attention to his stack of old Zeppelin LPs, borrowing the close of "When the Levee Breaks" for "Bring It On," echoing "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" on "I Love the Rain," recycling the JB groove of "The Crunge" twice, and then stitching together the verse of "Ramble On" and the chorus riff of "The Rain Song" for "If You Want It." Kravitz does all this without outright thievery, meticulously constructing an album that feels and plays like an LP from the golden age of gatefolds.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Black and White America is the ninth studio album by American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and arranger Lenny Kravitz, released on August 30, 2011. It is considered Kravitz's long awaited funk studio album originally intended for release before Baptism's last minute songwriting sessions.
Lenny Kravitz's greatest gift is that he's a master synthesist, pulling together different sounds and styles from eras past to create a sound that isn't necessarily blazingly original, but fresh due to his craft and sheer mastery of the studio. Since he was an unabashed classicist, his records often suffered the brunt of nasty criticism, but they were often very good, particularly early in his career before he indulged in the mannerisms of guitar-blasting stadium rock.
Even if Circus and 5 were sunk by their own bloat, they still had good singles, as did those early albums, so the 2000 collection Greatest Hits is a terrific encapsulation of Kravitz at the peak of his talents. Certainly, there are some fan favorites missing, and the non-chronological sequencing is maddening (two of his three worst singles are within the first three songs), but it does boast the magnificent new single "Again," along with such seminal Kravitz moments as "Are You Gonna Go My Way," "Mr. Cabdriver," "Stand By My Woman," "Always on the Run," "Believe," "Let Love Rule," and "It Ain't Over Til It's Over," which is enough to make this a first-class greatest-hits compilation. After all, it doesn't just have all the main songs, it also illustrates that he indeed is a master synthesist.
Words - Stephen Thomas Erlewine