A rocker who turns his gaze ever backward, Lenny Kravitz tarries awhile in the mid ‘80s on Strut, his 10th album.
His opening blast of sexed up funk-rock, Sex, recalls both Duran Duran and The Talking Heads. What? On paper it works as both groups had a high groove component but Kravitz cut his teeth and made his bones on earlier, rougher stuff. Classic rock, shall we say?
Sonically it’s a garden of earthly delights – flanged riffs, octave hopping bass hooks, kick and snare soul rock drums and the sweet tones of amped-up analog fidelity.
It’s not a stretch to suggest that people listen to Kravitz to experience a remake of the flash, soul and sweat of the late ‘60s and ‘70s era of psychedelia, soul and rock. The man knows how to bring it to life. But the ‘80s? No, don’t bring that into this…
The first track definitely could wreck the vibe for the rest of the recording. Fortunately, Kravitz and band (featuring guitar buddy and songwriting partner Craig Ross) abandon the effete sounds of the pastel decade and move back into some dramatic edge-of-angst riffing (Dirty White Boots, The Chamber).
Despite his arrangement savvy, Kravitz’ lyrics are flat and dimensionless. On a hot soul-rock track like New York City, the lyrics sound thoughtless and phoned in, a recurring theme on an otherwise groovy and spirited album that grabs energy from the best of the 1970s soul/funk/rock era but runs the risk of lifting the virtual needle off the virtual vinyl. Ignore the dumb-ass ‘80s clichés of Dirty White Boots and Strut and look beyond to Kravitz and band’s funk-rock dedication: They balance groove, restraint and disco ball abandon.
Also detectable are some Iggy Pop-type new wave rhythms on I’m a Believer and some churchy progressions in I Never Want to Let You Down.
Kravitz wears his past and influences openly on his silky sleeves but his artistry is in how he connects the sounds and pushes it forward into a high energy rock and roll review.
– Dean Gordon-Smith is a musician based in Vernon, B.C. His reviews of new music releases appears in The Morning Star every Friday.