When I am offered to review music albums, sometimes I hesitate. In the case of Lenny Kravitz' newest album "Black and White In America," I jumped at it. If there is one artist who walks to the sound of his own bell-bottomed steppin', fuzzy guitar playin', kick drum kickin', bass-pumpin' beatin' platform shoes, it's Lenny. This long awaited album is supposed to be his "funk opus," but went through a lot of changes in title (original title: 'Negrophilia') and release dates (late 2010, early 2011), but it's finally here, and you'll be glad it is here.
He's all at once as fresh and inventive as Prince, or any of the Isley Brothers, with a touch of Red Hot Chili Peppers and the ugly funk wonderfulness of James Brown. You put all of them into a blender and pour some hot buttered soul on top of it, and you've got Lenny Kravitz' sound - this album is no different in pushing the boundaries of what's hot and retro at the same time. Granted, this message is intended for Americans (because it's in part about the "American experience"), but I know my European, Latin and Sino brothers and sisters will understand the universal messages he presents us all here.
16 songs, totaling over 65 minutes:
01. Black and White America - right off the bat, the horns and the drum beat tell you that this isn't going to end wonderful, it's gonna end up with you in a hot sticky sweat, but don't forget the message - racism has been part of the fabric of America culture, whether we wanted it to be there or not. Lenny tells us through song about his past, his interracial parents who faced death for their decision in the 1960's, and to tell the children of all of these sacrifices that black and white are no longer part of what we should be - we're all Americans, and that's it. (on a personal note, having faced this same kind of short-sighted ignorant racism here in Chicago myself, I totally understand his message.)
02. Come On Get It - this song was released for use in advertising by the NBA (basketball, y'all) here in America, but the song's message is totally different if you listen to it - he's simply saying "I love ya and let's jump into it - come on and get it!", borrowing a bit from the cool funky rock of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. it's hot and sexy and classic Lenny. Yeah!
03. In the Black - we're laying in bed, we're under the covers, we can do we want, we can love all day and all night, and inside the black under these very covers this world is ours - this song is (again) sexy and strong and full of hope, because what's wrong with waking up with someone in your bed everyday and they love you and you love them?
04. Liquid Jesus - with the simple beginning of the kick drum of an 808, it becomes 1960's Marvin Gaye fabulous and the 1970's strings of Barry White, but only a little. This song is wonderful and mellow and smooth.
05. Rock Star City Life - the number one rule of thumb on makiing an album is to always always always follow a ballad with a rocker, and Lenny delivers 100%, with the flare of his trademark electric guitar. The story is simple - a girl wants to be part of the rock star lifestyle, so she follows the plan: she's got the attitude, the look, she's underage, she becomes from a groupie, and wouldn't you know it, she becomes VERY popular overnight! It's a story that's worked since the dawn of rock and roll, and some have become wives, some have dropped away, and some have gotten famous in tell-all books and glorified in song - kinda like this one!
06. Boongie Drop (featuring Jay-Z & DJ Military) - this song doesn't fit on the album at all, probably because of it's - dare I say it? - modern sound. It has a dark overtone, and it's precise and a little angry, but it's still got a great sound to it. Here's a little something from the Urban Dictonary I found online: BOONGIE - Bahamian for "butt" or "booty," sometimes including the upper thighs. Bahamians have a preference for well developed "boongies"..." So we get it. It's a great stepping tune, though...
07. Stand - There's nothing wrong with a positive message from a man who knows how to deliver it - what's wrong in saying "America, you've been knocked down by bad advice the the wrong people, so face the bullies and stand up and fight for what was always yours in the first place!" It's not a "rah-rah" hippie song, it's a good and well-intentioned message, and I'm proud of him for continuing to stay a positive force in such an angry world with so much bad stuff happening. The song stops short, and immediately goes into
08. Superlove - the Isley Brothers are all over this one, as Lenny simply wants you to accept his love fror you and all he wants is your super love - classy, simple and to the point, and I love it...
09. Everything - this is classic Lenny and the classic Lenny message - you give me everything I could ever need... the song is another wonderful knockout love song.
10. I Can't Be Without You - this isn't a song so much, but a plea for his lover to understand, because when you're there, I'm complete, and the distance between us is just too much to bear... a great subtle track that builds in intensity and the fades quietly away.
11. Looking Back On Love - this song is every broken heart Lenny's gone through, every wrong move he's made, every woman he's lost, all seen through a faded TV screen and through pictures that remind him of his past as well. We all pretty much kow his story and know his heartaches too. Put yourself in his place and you'll feel it with him, too. That's when the Earth Wind and Fire synth piano jumps into the solo, and the song only gets better as he sums it all up for us - "when I'm finally dead, will I finally be alive?"
12. Life Ain't Ever Been Better Than It Is Now - this is going to be Lenny's first big hit off the album, guaranteed - as he says "it's not a song, it's more like a prayer," and he's feeling good about his life, and how it's going now, and you know what? He's right - we all should celebrate the fact we got another day on this earth, no matter how the rest of the world is going, I've got my health, I've got my pride, and then we launch into one of the best parts of the album, the horn section going off, kinda like the way sax player Maceo Parker took off when His Royal Funkiness James Brown used to let him go for it. This is a great song, and re-affirming, and you should play this every morning when you get up, and you'll be glad you did!
13. The Faith of a Child - this is the one song that Lenny has included on every album at one point or another - peace, peace, peace! We've got to have faith "of a child" that we can "still turn it around." When the (cheesy) choir and the (even cheesier) church organ jumped in, I was a little turned off, because I've heard this kind of song a hundred times before, but Lenny still delivers a song worthy of John Lennon in 2011, as Kravitz' life has been filled enough with anger and drama for 10 people, so why not want a little peace for everyone else too?
14. Sunflower (featuring Drake) - I don't know what to think, because I'm trying to figure out is this a light Jamaican raggae beat drifitng around a 1980's synth piano and horns? She makes him feel alright, so why not let that be enough for him, though? The rap from Drake kinda breaks in from the clouds and the song floats along the breeze like a good gust of cool wind on a warm day. It's nice, and lite, and drifts away to...
15. Dream - the solo piano at the beginning kinda reminds me of the beginning of Robbie Williams' 2001 song "Eternity," but the tone of this song is so totally different. Once again Lenny takes on the ugly ghosts of adversity, as he knows it's the one who's been keeping down so many others who've tried and failed, but he's not giving up, and he's saying neither should we. Another classic song (and one of the longest on the album) that is both new and timeless at the same time, and it's great.
16. Push - the memory of his past is pushing him through to make it a better future for himself and for anyone who wants to go with him. Is he where he is right now? No. Does he want more for himself? Definitely. This song only lets us all know that Lenny hasn't peaked yet, he's only getting stronger and more fired up for the fight that he knows he has to undertake if he's going to be a better man, and I guess if that's the message he's pushing on us, I get it.
(On the deluxe CD package there's two other songs and a separate DVD with interviews and other stuff)
So what can be said about Lenny Kravitz circa 2011? Has he gone backwards too far in his wayback machine musically to deliver a message that has been done by many other artists before? Maybe, but consider this: there are very few men (and women) who really do try and stretch their musical boundaries and flex their intellectual muscles, and on that Lenny delivers.
Once again, the album was supposed to be a long-awaited funk special of some sort, but I think in delaying this for over two years - to finally put out what is at most 80% cohesive - Kravitz proves yet again that rock and soul (or funk and roll) isn't dead, it's just been out there, and he just now made sure he grabbed it up and put it here for us to hear.
Overall, I'm going to have to give it 4 out of 5 stars.
Half of the album is a blast, and we hear Lenny at his best, doing what he does best - rocking the hell out of a song and having fun with flashy funky tunes. The second half in some spots gets a bit heavy and sometimes a little bit too preachy. I really do like the album overall, but I'll just stick with that one good half of the album - the side that rocks out and has fun, which is what Lenny Kravitz has no shortage of. Read more ›