Lenny Kravitz 5

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Lenny Kravitz 5The fifth studio album by Lenny Kravitz, released in 1998 is aptly titled 5 and saw the talented artist return to top commercial success as well as expand his world wide audience. This winner of two Grammy Awards, successfully found Kravitz both establishing himself as a genuine funk and R&B artist while also advancing his incredibly diverse fusion of rock and soul which he had established early on in his recording career. The result is an accessible and accomplished work that offers an array of sonic candy.

Following the success of Kravitz’s 1989 debut, Let Love Rule and the 1991 follow-up record, Mama Said, Kravitz advanced his songwriting and production projects for multiple artists. In 1993 he released Are You Gonna Go My Way, which reached number 12 on the album charts and spawned several singles. This album was also the initial to feature guitarist Craig Ross and was partially recorded in The Bahamas where Kravitz would eventually build a recording studio. Kravitz’s fourth album, Circus, was released in 1995 but was a bit of a commercial disappointment.

With 5, Kravitz both aimed to return to commercial relevance and, for the first time, he embraced digital technology and sampling. The album was recorded in both Kravitz-owned studios in New York City and The Bahamas with the assistance of engineer Terry Manning.


5 by Lenny Kravitz
Released: May 12, 1998 (Island)
Produced by: Lenny Kravitz
Recorded: Ghetto Lounge Studios and Compass Point Studios, Bahamas, 1997–1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Live
Supersoulfighter
I Belong to You
Black Velveteen
If You Can’t Say No
Thinking of You
Take Time
Fly Away
It’s Your Life
Straight Cold Player
Little Girl’s Eyes
You’re My Flavor
Can We Find a Reason?
American Woman
Without You
Lenny Kravitz – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Drums
Craig Ross – Guitars, Keyboards
Jack Daley – BassLenny Kravitz 5

 

 

“Live” was co-written by Kravitz and Ross as a riff driven guitar rocker with a Rick-James–like funk approach. The rich arrangement includes a brass section, a choppy bass rhythm by Jack Daley and a long saxophone lead by Harold Todd late in the song. “Supersoulfighter” finds Kravitz fully immersing in the genre of old as he personally provides soul synths, sound effects, a cool clavichord and a steady drum beat. In contrast, “I Belong to You” starts with electronic percussion soon accompanied by some R&B bass with not too much more variation.

A heavy synth rhythm and some electronic treatment on vocals are prevalent on the track “Black Velveteen”, which later features a Bowie-like vocal delivery. “If You Can’t Say No” employs maximum modern R&B and strategically placed sonic décor (clav, piano, organ, etc.) and a fantastic bluesy guitar lead, while ultimately still being a singer’s song. The sad and emotional ballad “Thinking of You” was dedicated to Kravitz’s mother, Roxie Roker, who died of cancer in 1995, while “Take Time” features a slow, sloshy drum beat accompanied by psychedelic keys and an overall mechanical background to soulful vocals, There is obviously a heavy Prince influence on this latter one, especially during the heavy rock guitar lead.

While 5 is pretty solid throughout,  the second half of the album is where real gems lie with rock, funk and soul musical diversity. The guitar driven rocker “Fly Away” was an immediate hit with its catchy melody, interesting slap bass and a potent drum beat. Originally composed as a ballad, this revised funky track also makes great use of effects on the vocals, which helped it ascend to the Top 20 and won Kravitz a Grammy Award in 1999 for Best Male Rock Performance. Though much less popular, “It’s Your Life” is equally as excellent as its predecessor as a heavy funk rocker with some synth horns and melodic verses over a pointed bass line. “Straight Cold Player” is a quasi-instrumental driven by a complex drum beat by guest Cindy Blackman, while “Little Girl’s Eyes” is a slow soul ballad with much synth atmosphere and a long outro with a guitar lead.

Lenny Kravitz, 1998

The original release of 5 wrapped up with two more excellent tunes. “You’re My Flavor” features a unique blend of rock with bass moving faster than guitars in verses and a melodic hard guitar riff in choruses. “Can We Find a Reason?” is an acoustic track with trippy lead guitar overtones, a heavy Hammond organ and a Gospel like backing vocals to augment Kravitz’s droning, alternative rock guitar lead and soulful, peacenik vocals. In 1999, the album was re-issued to include Kravitz’s smash hit cover of The Guess Who’s “American Woman” and the acoustic ballad “Without You”.

A Top 40 album, 5 spawned further commercial success for Kravitz, with the subsequent 2000 Greatest Hits album being his most successful album, selling nearly 11 million copies worldwide.

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1998 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1998 albums.

 

Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravitz

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Let Love Rule by Lenny KravitzWhile only a moderate success in the United States, the 1989 debut album by Lenny Kravitz became an instant and huge hit elsewhere in the world. Let Love Rule mixed Kravitz’s musical influences, which included rock, soul, funk, and folk, into a contemporary blend that offered something profound and unique to pop music in 1989. A rarity for a newcomer working on his debut, Kravitz self-produced and also played played most of the instruments on the album, which contain all original compositions. Some childhood friends along with established pop and rock stars were also brought in to add some of the finishing touches to the album.

Born in New York, Kravitz is the son of television producer Sy Kravitz and actress Roxy Roker, who brought the family to Los Angeles when she landed a role on the television show The Jeffersons. Through his youth in Bevery Hills, Kravitz was influenced by everything from classical and opera to classic rock n’ roll, in the vein of Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Jimi Hendrix, and The Who. Between performing at the Hollywood Bowl with a boys choir to acting in television commercials, Kravitz was no stranger to the limelight. In 1985, Kravitz met keyboardist/bassist Henry Hirsch and the two started composing some original material. However, major record labels were less than receptive to the music because it did not fit neatly into “black” or “white” genres.

With this new dilemma, Kravitz and Hirsh began making their own demos. The two also had shared an interest in vintage instruments and recording equipment, which ultimately helped forge their sound. With a quality demo in hand, five major labels were suddenly interested and Kravitz eventually signed with Virgin Records in early 1989.


Pump by Aerosmith
Released: September 19, 1989 (Virgin)
Produced by: Lenny Kravitz
Recorded: 1988-1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Sittin’ On Top of the World
Let Love Rule
Freedom Train
Precious Love
I Build This Garden
Fear
Does Anybody out There
Mr. Cab Driver
Rosemary
Be
Blues for Sister Someone
Empty Hands
Flower Child
Lenny Kravitz – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Drums, Percussion
Adam Widoff – Guitars
Henry Hirsch – Piano, Organ
Karlly Gould – Bass
Chad Smith – Drums

Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravitz

 

From the calm strummed acoustic intro to the quarky, bass and clav body of the song, “Sittin’ On Top of the World” is an asymmetric song to commence the album. While starting potently, the song oddly kind of peters out at the conclusion. The title track “Let Love Rule” offers more stability, at least so far as the rhythm and beat goes. A quasi-Beatles vibe persists throughout the early part of the song with good vocals and a catchy hook. An extended saxophone solo by Karl Denson is accompanied by a subtle horn arrangement and joins the cool organ with popping bass out front with wailing vocals, all giving the latter part of this track a definitive Soul music feel. Although not credited, drums were provided by fellow Southern Californian Alex Van Halen.

“Freedom Train” is almost like a slow rap with distant, filtered guitar, a bass riff, and plenty of synthesized percussion and chops. Overall, a very cool and original song with great texture, albeit very little lyrical substance. “Precious Love” is a ballad with organ, piano, bass and a steady drum beat holding together backing to desperate, soulful vocals. An extended lead section during the bridge includes both an excellent piano lead and effective organ chops by keyboardist Hirsch. “I Build This Garden” is nearly religious in lyric, while containing a driving rock guitar riff blended with strings, in another Beatles sonic tribute. Melodic vocals are almost detached from the backing march, but still jive beautifully and later features include great electric piano riffs, a Gospel choir hymn, and a tremendous guitar lead in outro.

The middle part of the album turns towards a darker and more pessimistic tone. “Fear” is pleasant enough to listen towith a Stevie Wonder-like funk groove and vocal style, while the lyrics paint a doomy apocalyptic environment. Some musical features in this song, include a harmonized vocal “sang” through a guitar talk box along with a persistent clavichord. “Does Anybody Out There” is the first of a couple of overtly self-righteuos themes, again great musically, but a little bit too preachy lyrically by this point. The song starts with a quiet soft electric piano, which breaks into calm but strong guitar rock and very low-key vocals. The album hits a nadir with “Mr. Cab Driver”, obviously Lou Reed-influenced musically, but totally over the top lyrically as it attacks the working class to satisfy the latest Hollywood agenda in an almost hate-inciting method.

However, the album recovers nicely with “Rosemary”, a beautiful and exquisite song of hope driven by the simple acoustic of Kravitz and decorated by the bluesy harmonica of Lee Jaffe. With strong Christian religious themes, the song speaks of a young homeless girl and gradually builds to a full arrangement with flanged guitars and uplifting organ. “Be” is another song with good musical textures such as the thumping bass with piano chords, which may have been influenced by John Lennon’s classic Plastic Ono Band. This closing track of the original LP is steady, like an urban folk song with perfectly executed vocal harmonies and doubling.

The final three tracks were originally billed as “CD Bonus Tracks”. “Blues for Sister Someone” is a slow rocker about drug abuse with a hypnotizing rhythm combined with power chord riffing, much more filler than other tracks on album but still sounds great until it ends abruptly. “Empty Hands” is a bit Western folk, while again religious in tone. The song proper is melodic with acoustic, organ, strings, and the accordion, which has a short solo during the outro section. “Flower Child” is a pure piano rocker, almost frivolous and comical but still a fun listen and different than anything else on the album.

In its first five years, Let Love Rule sold over 2 million copies in Europe, but has yet to sell a million copies in the United States. However, Kravitz would find much more commercial success in the coming decade, starting with Mama Said, his sophomore effort in 1991.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

1989 Images

 

Get a Grip by Aerosmith

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Get a Grip by AerosmithAerosmith made an amazing comeback in the late 1980s, as the band which was essentially dead at the beginning of that decade sprang back with a second act unlike many others in rock history. However, with their first release of the 1990s, Get a Grip, the band kind of “jumped the shark” in providing manufactured, crowd-tested anthems with extra vanilla production techniques and cheap, low grade lyrics. Further, the group attempted to mask is hyper-commercialized approach by adding some boilerplate social commentary. As tacky as this approach was artistically, it certainly worked commercially as Get a Grip became Aerosmith’s best-selling studio album worldwide with sales of over 20 million copies.

Produced by Bruce Fairbairn, the album employees outside composers and performers more than any other Aerosmith album, with compositions by only band members being more the exception than the rule. Joey Kramer, a quality drummer since the band’s inception with their debut album two decades earlier, is reduced to providing almost mind-numbing drumming and hardly ever adding any variation to the most basic of 4/4 beats. This may just be the most egregious of several examples where the band just decided to play it safe and not really variate from their late eighties formula, even regress at times.

The album was actually rejected by Geffen in its original form during the summer of 1992 and the band returned to the studio to record more “radio-friendly” material, ultimately delaying the album’s release by about 6 months. Get a Grip would be the final album Aerosmith would record for Geffen Records.

 


Get a Grip by Aerosmith
Released: April 20, 1993 (Virgin)
Produced by: Bruce Fairbairn
Recorded: A&M Studios, Hollywood & Little Mountain Sound, Vancouver, Jan-Nov 1992
Track Listing Band Musicians
Intro / Eat the Rich
Get a Grip
Fever
Livin’ On the Edge
Flesh
Walk On Down
Shut Up and Dance
Cryin’
Gotta Love It
Crazy
Line Up
Amazing
Boogie Man
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Piano, Harmonica
Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass, Vocals
Joey Kramer – Drums
 

Get a Grip by Aerosmith

 
The tackiness of the album is evident from the jump with the terrible “Intro” with jungle noises, behind a cheesy rap by vocalist Steven Tyler and sampling of “Walk This Way”. This leads to “Eat the Rich”, co-written by hired songwriter Jim Vallance, which starts as a decent enough, riff-driven rock song but is unfortunately tarnished by cheap and cheesy lyrics and a few tawdry lines thrown in for pure “shock value”. Then, as if to just underline the total suckiness of the song, it ends with a loud belch. Still, this song was a hit and appeared on a few future compilations.

Vallance also co-wrote the title song “Get a Grip”, a frantic rap which gets repetitive. Better than the opener, but still pretty weak. “Fever” is the best of the opening trio because of strong rock and blues influences by lead guitarist Joe Perry. This still feels a bit cheap and, by this point in the album, it feels like this band of 40-somethings is trying just a bit too hard to be  hip and hard rocking.

Song doctor Mark Hudson’s “Livin’ On the Edge” is the first real quality song on the album, featuring Brad Whitford on acoustic guitar accompanied by almost-Eastern-sounding lead guitars and good quality melodies. There is also a decent bridge arrangement with some slight piano and the song’s only real issue is the artificially elongated ending, which reprises after a few false stops, extending the song about a minute and a half longer than it should be without much true benefit for the listener. The song was a Top 20 hit on the Pop charts. “Flesh” was co-written by long time collaborator Desmond Child and starts with a synthesized and sound-effect-drenched opening, before finally kicking with decent musical and melodic elements featuring Whitford on lead guitar. Perry’s “Walk On Down” is just as weak lyrically as other material but is a bit interesting because of Joe Perry’s vocals. “Shut Up and Dance” may be the nadir of this album. Composed by jack Blades and Tommy Shaw (then of Damn Yankees), there is a decent hook in the chorus but the verses are really cheap and repetitive.
 

 
“Cryin'” was co-written by Taylor Rhodes and is, perhaps, the best song on the album. A ballad performed at maximum volume, the production value is top-notch and the song contains a great fade-out coda, reminding us that Aerosmith can really extend a song organically when they really want to. Both Perry and Whitford play guitar solos while Tyler adds a harmonica solo.

Bassist Tom Hamilton adds some funky bass to the groove “Gotta Love It”, which also contains some biting guitar riffs. Child returns and adds some mandolin to the ballad “Crazy”, which has a decent enough vibe once you get past the corny intro. The song was another chart success for the band and also earned the band a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal in 1994. “Line Up” features Lenny Kravitz in a fusion between Motown and heavy rock along with a bluesy slide guitar and a slight horn section.

Leaving aside the experimental “Boogie Man”, the album truly completes with “Amazing” by Richard Supa. This excellent piano ballad with great chord structure and perfectly arranged instrumentation, almost single-handedly redeems the album with a great outtro similar to “What It Takes” on their previous album, but a lame 1940s-like spoken radio announcement completely rips the listener from the moody vibe and reminds him how cheesy this album really is right to the end.

Although a commercial phenom, Get a Grip tainted Aerosmith’s reputation for authentic rock quite substantially. They would redeem themselves a bit with their next album, the fine Nine Lives in 1997, which was much more substantial musically but less successful commercially.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1993 albums.

 

Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz

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Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz Lenny Kravitz followed up his brilliant 1989 debut, Let Love Rule with Mama Said two years later. Although many critics thought this sophomore effort paled in comparison, Mama Said was Kravitz’s commercial breakthrough. The album was a stylistic evolution from his debut reflecting the changes in Kravitz’s life. His recent breakup with wife Lisa Bonet made Mama Said an album filled with emotions of loss and sadness as well as the denial of such. Some have referred to this as Kravitz’s “divorce album”.

As the sole producer of the album and performer of most of its music, Kravitz was innovative and inspired, fusing elements of jazz, soul, rock, and dance music. He was also free to enlist musicians of his choosing to help out. Former high school classmate and current Guns n’ Roses guitarist Slash helped out on a few songs. Kravitz even co-wrote a song with Sean Ono Lennon, the 15-year-old son of his musical idol John Lennon. The song was “All I Ever Wanted”, on which Lennon also played piano. For the most part, however, Kravitz was pretty much a one man band on this album with engineer Henry Hirsch filling in on a variety of instruments where needed.

Some listeners have also noted that Kravitz moved forward a couple years in parallel from the late sixties influence fixations of Let Love Rule to the early seventies sound of Mama Said, which sounds like it could have been produced during that era.


Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz
Released: April 2, 1991 (Virgin)
Produced by: Lenny Kravitz
Recorded: 1990-1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Fields Of Joy
Always On the Run
Stand By My Woman
It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over
More Than Anything In This World
What Goes Around Comes Around
The Difference Is Why
Stop Draggin’ Around
Flowers For Zoe
Fields Of Joy (Reprise)
All I Ever Wanted
When the Morning Turns to Night
What the Fuck Are We Saying?
Butterfly
Lenny Kravitz – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Drums
Henry Hirsh – Bass, Keyboards, String Arrangements
Karl Denson – Saxophone
David Domanich – Drums

Buy Mama Said by Lenny Kravitz

Slash joined in for the first two songs, the emotive “Fields of Joy” and the intense “Always On the Run”. This latter song was a dedication to Kravitz’s mother, actress Roxie Roker, and the default title song of the album. It was also co-written by Slash and combines some very funky Sly Stone-esque grooves and horns with some Hendrix-like heavy rock guitars.

The following two songs, seem to indicate non-acceptance of his faltering marriage, the Lennon-esque “Stand By My Woman” and the swirling Philly soul sound of “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”. Both are very entertaining and melodic hits, with the latter featuring a pulsating bass line, a sitar riff, many strings, and the singer’s flawless, high pitched vocals. The video for this song is nearly an exact replica of the Doors 1968 performance on The Smothers Brothers show, complete with Kravitz dressed nearly exactly the way Jim Morrison did for that performance.

It Ain't Over Til It's Over Video by Lenny Kravitz, 1991     Touch Me Video by The Doors, 1968

Other standouts on Mama Said are the quiet ballad “Flowers For Zoe,” written for Kravitz’s daughter , the anti-song anthem “When The Morning Turns To Light”, and a psychedelic song with a vulgar name, “What The Fuck Are We Saying?”. Kravitz returns to the high falsetto on the brilliant, jazz influenced “What Goes Around Comes Around”, which gradually builds with guitars, horns, strings, and saxophone, while remaining cool and refrained throughout.

With the commercial success of Mama Said, Lenny Kravitz was poised to deliver a string of successful albums through the rest of the nineties, although the edge that he possessed on his first two releases would never quite return.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

1991 Images