Twenty years have passed since the release of Lenny Kravitz's debut album. Let Love Rule: 20th Anniversary Edition is now available, a two-CD deluxe reissue with no less than eighteen bonus tracks. The main attraction remains the album itself, a remarkably self-assured collection of mostly one-man-band jams. Kravitz is among the relatively elite group of rock musicians who can convincingly create an ensemble sound while overdubbing everything alone. The heavier handed lyrics still seem cliched, but the vocals are put over with such conviction that it largely nullifies such criticisms.
I hadn't heard Let Love Rule in many years, but was surprised at how fresh it remains. Kravitz's smartest move was keeping the sound organic and rooted in traditional, straight-forward rock instrumentation. In 1989, with many artists still mired in the overly slick and layered production that was hip at the time, this stuff sounded instantly dated; an attempt at recreating an earlier era. Heard today, the album doesn't sound like a product of the late-'80s in the slightest bit, which goes a long ways towards keeping it relevant.
While Kravitz's reach often extends his grasp, he comes across as a true blue believer in hippie power. The title track is another in a long line of "All You Need Is Love" variations, simplistic in its idealism. But the groove is solid, the vocals passionate, and the sax solo by Karl Denson kicks the song into overdrive. Kravitz allows Denson to really stretch out, to the point where his horn becomes the dominant element of the song. It's a thrilling piece of soloing that elevates the song.
Other highlights include the sparse "Blues For Sister Someone," a sort of Velvet Underground style distorted drone. Like many other of the lyrics throughout, the social commentary is not particularly creative. "I know a girl who gets off/By sticking needles in her veins," is something we've heard many times. That doesn't stop Kravitz from throwing himself into the lead vocal. He really sells the material with the raw emotion in his voice.
Disc one's bonus tracks include a few demos and rarities, like a strong take on Lennon's "Cold Turkey." But the meat of the bonus material is found on the second disc. The searing live concert from early 1990 allows the album's songs to be heard with a full band, and the results are strong. Extended performances of "Let Love Rule" and "Fear" dominate, but the entire performance is crackling with energy. A couple tracks from a different performance, at the tail end of '89, includes an interesting cover of Hendrix's "If 6 Was 9."
With extensive liner notes, excellent remastered sound, and top notch bonus tracks, Let Love Rule: 20th Anniversary Edition is well worth the upgrade. This lovingly produced reissue is a Valentine for Lenny Kravitz fans. But it also works as a perfect introduction to the man's work.