‘Lost in Emotion’
Like most artists who grew up with a wide appreciation of several music forms, it is difficult to place Lenny Kravitz into exactly which genre he belongs. Case in point: he got shifted into alternative soul because of a constant guitar presence and that only helped him to win four consecutive Grammys for male rock vocal performances. There is another reason too; like this year’s so happening group, Vampire Weekend, he is an artist clearly with an affluent background. There ends the similarities though because while that band can push off from their upbringing and relish it on record, Kravitz always sounds too keenly aware of his privilege and the struggle to escape it is a constant hurdle of his new album, It is Time for a Love Revolution.
It’s a lot of hurdles but his music production isn’t one of them, thankfully. It’s to his credit that all his albums indicate a classically trained background and a track like "Bring It On" features some extended guitar licks that rock the house but, unlike his best songs like "Fly Away," there is a disconnect along its way. Like many non-geniuses who attempt an alternative, urban sound (there are too many to start name-dropping), Kravitz overuses his acoustic tools to compensate for the innate vocal and dynamic ones he just doesn’t have.
In short, he’s no genius and thus a part of his appeal is being able to camouflage or dress up that fact. Kravitz succeeds in this by mostly doing covers like "‘American Woman" or maintaining a hip, rocker look that appeals to both women and men. I’m also sure it’s imminent for him to take a slot of a judge on American Idol or a Miss World beauty pageant. However, if you’re like me, then you’re more interested in the music but production value aside, there is little here to keep one interested.
Lyrics have always been his Achilles heel and coupled with a desire to go beyond a facile level, the album is downright bland in that regard. The ridiculous "I’ll Be Waiting" is a fitting title because it sure sounds like he’s waiting for something to happen on the track but, unlike you the listener who can discern what it lacks; Kravitz seems unsure what he is waiting for. One wonders how it made it through so many demo takes and still came out as a fully-armed thing daring to pass itself off as anything of interest. He fares better on "A New Door" but the middle section may put you to sleep.
Even with his reliable guitar-wielding base though, Kravitz settles in rather than attack. "I Love the Rain" is a mixture of Hendrix-esque (or in his case, Aerosmith) shards of feedback and the trip/hop vibe a-la Portishead but even as it fades out his lack of urgency costs him. Greater artistes like Prince, D’angelo, and Terence Trent D’arby would’ve, pardon the jargon, ripped the s-it up. Kravitz though isn’t concerned about exploring beyond what has become comfortable for him. He thinks that by merely still encasing everything in guitars that it’s experimental enough, thus disregarding the entire alternative soul movement that he got caught up in by default.
Like Mary J. Blige, he’s become too comfortable with what works for him and his patented sound to really want to shake things up or apply any really depth vocally anymore. There’s no fight or challenge left in him and, at forty-four, only a mid-life crisis could possibly rouse him into something new and it shows on this comfy yet too familiar record, which is odd given the harshness this decade has treated him (being racially-profiled by the police and all).
Albums like It is Time for a Love Revolution though will always be better received by soul yuppies desperate to be seen as hip on a visceral level than say a true alternative masterpiece like Trent D’arby’s Symphony or Damn or even the stunning solo debut out now by Lightspeed Champion. I could spend an entire article writing on reasons for this but, hey, you continue to watch the Grammy awards struggle to remain relevant despite ignoring most exceptional talent and nominating the same line up yearly, so you know what I’m talking about. Kravitz does the very same thing and while it doesn’t make his stuff awful by a long shot, this is his eight album of pushing the same shtick on us and that clearly doesn’t make this a work of progress, but one bogged down by too much familiarity and regress.