Twenty-one years removed from his ascension to the 1990s MTV rock throng―courtesy of Are You Gonna Go My Way (Virgin, 1993)―Kravitz returns with his 10th album, Strut. The album is the inaugural release of Kravitz’s own indie imprint, Roxie Records.
Like his previous efforts, Strut is a “written, arranged, produced and composed by” product of Lenny Kravitz’s vision. That “vision” has drawn derision and affection; white rock critics tended to remark that Kravitz’s brand has been too close to previous rock and roll incarnations. It’s an ironic posture as the rock music hegemony typically only seems to acknowledge those that acknowledge them. For Kravitz, however, imitation of their own derivative style wasn’t his intention. Instead Kravitz has always been about reframing and modernizing rock music of the 1960s and 1970s. In short, Kravitz pays homage and makes old sounds new again.
The new album isn’t that different from his past records he’s released across two decades. It’s assisted by a trimming of excess material, something even his best post-5 (Virgin, 1998) albums required.
It begins with a power-packed duo in “Sex” and “The Chamber,” where Kravitz eyes a new wave gleam. Sexy, but age appropriate, both songs are instant Kravitz smashes. The first side doesn’t let up after those two cuts. Kravitz alternates between the crash-and-crunch of “Dirty White Boots” to the “on the town” cool of “New York City.” Rounding out the debut half of Strut is the twinkling soul of “The Pleasure and the Pain”; the track could easily pitch itself between the soul music from Detroit or Philadelphia. Part of “The Pleasure and the Pain’s” appeal is the solid background support by dance-funk icons James “D-Train” Williams and Tawatha Agee (of Mtume fame).
As some Kravitz records tend to do, Strut loses steam as it enters its second half. There are some memorable moments present on the other side with the cheeky title cut, the wry “Frankenstein” and a rootsy cover of The Miracles staple “Ooo Baby Baby.”
Strut clutches equal doses of polish and punch to give Lenny Kravitz that rare mid-career best. The new long player announces that the once MTV-poster boy has become his very own classic rock format for others to admire and imitate.
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