While 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.
From the calm strummed acoustic intro to the quirky, 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 Built 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 to with 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-righteous 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.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1989 albums.