Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Raise Vibration’ Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Soul With No Filler
Lenny Kravitz is like a rockstar written for fiction, a caricature of sorts. His music seems assembled from all the common denominators of “rock.” His guitar playing is almost exclusively made up of all the gestures that excite children when they first hear electric guitars — power chords, bluesy licks, bent notes, and flashy passages. He taps into throwback fare with enough swag to pull off soul and R&B stylings while still sounding decidedly alternative rock. He croons in falsetto, grunts and hollers over pure funk, and occasionally throws in a sentimental song for good measure. His latest album, “Raise Vibration,” is exactly what you would expect from a new Lenny Kravitz album — more of the same sound, with some musical elements and lyrical themes that ground it in the present moment.
Opener “We Can Get It All Together” starts things off with big stadium sounds, over which the titular line rings as a message of empowerment. Kravitz sings in a rather odd nasal snarl, stretching his vowels, and sounding like Liam Gallagher in an alternate universe. “Low” delves into total late night soul grooves fare, leading you into a dim-lit club full of bell bottom-adorned dancers, with funky guitar strumming, and a sample of Michael Jackson shouting “Hoo!” along with “Kung Fu Fighting”-style vocal outbursts from Kravitz. “Who Really Are the Monsters?” adds an industrial flavor to the funk, with a distorted riff and a mechanical beat, over which Kravitz speaks about society’s ills, sounding like an ultra-lite version of Gil Scott Heron.
The title track of the album features Kravitz simultaneously singing and playing the same melody on his guitar, with a type of spacey indulgence that evokes the feeling of Woodstock stage acts. There’s nothing too exciting about what he’s singing or playing, but it’s powerful in how it mines cliches for their emotive resonance. This is music for kids who go to Guitar Center, plug in to amps with maximum distortion, and gawk at the sound coming out. The song eventually explodes into a cathartic release, which is ever so satisfying after all the buildup. It’s the same feeling as when the chorus hit in that Gap commercial with his song “Girl.” There’s always plenty of fuss about sanctioning music for advertisements, but it’s hard to imagine Kravitz getting any criticism, as his music seems meant for it. Each song is basically already a commercial, an ad for a lifestyle of sorts.
“Johnny Cash” finds Kravitz getting more soulful with his vocals over a comfortably sluggish beat, wah-wah guitars, and string arrangements reminiscent of ‘70s R&B hits. There’s an intimacy to the vocal that lets him really shine as a singer. Towards the end, everything goes deliciously haywire, with the band erupting into some loose, heavy funk, and Kravitz bellowing with reckless abandon. He sounds much more in his element here than on tracks like “Here to Love,” an inspirational song in the tradition of, say, Michael Jackson’s “Save the World,” seemingly written for a third grade after-school chorus program. Lyrics like “We’re not here to judge / We are here to love… There is just one human race” will likely appeal to not only children, but also foreigners who are just learning English. There’s surely some guy in Slovakia who finds this song incredibly moving.
“It’s Enough” is a mellow song sonically, but the weightiest in terms of lyrics. Kravitz hops from one issue to the next, briefly tackling topics including police racism, the conflict in the Middle East, and genetically modified foods, protesting them all with the titular line. It seems like every album released this year devoted at least one song to concerns of impending doom, regarding the state of the sociopolitical landscape. Unsurprisingly, Kravitz delivers his two cents with so much of his characteristic cool that it somehow makes things sound like they’re not really that bad after all.
“The Majesty of Love” brings back a sound whose revival we have all been eagerly awaiting — smooth jazz. The song features an incomprehensibly unironic saxophone solo in full ‘80s decadent glory. If this seems too soon, perhaps Kravitz is simply ahead of the times. “Gold Dust” is a catchy tune with a chorus that gives off the same vibe as the music of 311, along with more immodest guitar soloing. “Ride” brings back the throwback stylings, with more retro soul, along with some breezy, laid-back instrumentation. At the song’s end, Kravitz repeats the chorus a million times, sounding as if he’s singing while smiling in pose for a selfie. “I’ll Always Be Inside Your Soul” is an effective closer, breathing some air into the mix, and easing things out. It’s even more repetitive than the previous song, but in a way that works, as the relaxed refrain creates a comforting sense of closure.
For what it is, “Raise Vibration” is a solid record. It will be anathema to connoisseurs and musical snobs, but it’s a consistently enjoyable listen for those who like to get straight to the point with their music, without any nonsense. It’s the sonic equivalent of a big blockbuster movie with elaborate action scenes and a maudlin love story. There are plenty of bangers, there are sentimental numbers, and there’s a judicious seasoning of social consciousness fare that gives it some gravity without taking away from the lighthearted fun of the sound. It’s a streamlined and straightforward set of soulful rock ‘n’ roll songs, and every one packs a pop punch.
“Raise Vibration” is available Sept. 7 on Apple Music.