I am a huge Lenny Kravitz fan. I’ve been a fan since the days when he couldn’t get a cab and urged us all to Let Love Rule. I believed him when he said Rock N’ Roll Is Dead even as he was breathing new life into it on one of the best records of the 1990’s. And I, like so many others, despaired a little when he wasted his time with a banal cover of American Woman just to sell a Best Of record.
Thankfully, Lenny has left the covers and the Best Of’s behind and is back with a new record. It’s called Black and White America and in typical Lenny fashion, it features a number of songs about peace and brotherhood set to some seriously crunchy guitar, bass heavy funk and lyrics delivered with Lenny’s trademark silky vocals.
Well, that’s half of Black and White America anyway. The opening half of Black and White America, minus the rollicking title track that inspires you momentarily to think the Lenny of old is still lurking, is a disturbing mix of lame lyrics, sexual pandering and downright disturbing erotic desperation.
As I said before, the title track, Black and White America, which opens the record, is a call back to classic Lenny Kravitz on which he celebrates his roots on both sides of the racial divide. For a moment, we along with Lenny are allowed to believe we live in a post-racial world, and it is good.
Then, things get weird. Lenny Kravitz has always been a sex symbol and with his rock god poses and phallic guitar that’s understandable, but on the second track of Black and White America, Come On Get It, we get far too much of an insight into what sex with Lenny Kravitz may be like.
To be fair, some of the ladies may love this idea. For me, I appreciate that women will appreciate it but I can’t help but feel as if Lenny is just moments away from jizzing on us all halfway through the song. Sorry to be so graphic but honestly, the lyrics, Lenny’s comical grunting and what sounds like slobbering only lend themselves to my description.
Things don’t improve much on track three, In the Black, which continues the sex with Lenny Kravitz theme; this time in ballad form. The grunting is less female tennis player than on Come on Get It but it’s there and it distracts from what otherwise is a solid, lovely piece of production.
The nadir of Black and White America is undoubtedly Liquid Jesus, a song that combines Lenny’s faith in God with his orgasmic excesses. The song sounds phenomenal but when combined with Lenny’s oddly sexy lyrics “Wash me over, wash me down. I want to get saved baby,” the song begins to play like a parody.
Lenny Kravitz is not known for his sense of humor, thus when Liquid Jesus morphs into an SNL parody of Prince, it sounds more unfortunate than it does sneakily humorous. You think things will improve when you get to the well known car commercial track Rock Star City Life, but in all of the Jeep driving fun I never before stopped to listen to the lyrics.
Rock Star City Life is about Lenny’s difficulty in resisting the charms of an underage girl. “She’s underage, a real Lolita.” I understand that Lolita has become shorthand for a girl who is sexual beyond her years but should it be evoked as a commendable quality by a 40 plus year old rock star with a daughter barely out of the Lolita age range?
Teaming Lenny Kravitz and Jay-Z sounds like the kind of musical fusion that should produce mindblowing results. Sadly, the track Boongie Drop is weak sauce featuring a rap by Jay-Z that he likely wrote on the back of a napkin during dinner at Lenny’s place in the Bahamas. Track seven is the recent radio release Stand and it’s the first sign since the title track that the old Lenny we love is still in there rocking away.
The song evokes what I take as Lenny’s call to President Obama, “Stand and run again.” It’s a track filled with hopeful uplift and a solid pop/rock production. Sadly, Stand is stranded in between Boongie Drop and another of Lenny’s sex starved odes, Superlove; which is apparently Lenny’s nickname for the vagina as he implores his lover “I want to be inside your Superlove,” while pounding out a groove that would be perfectly at home in 1970’s porn.
Things then go spiritual once again on the mostly forgettable track Everything. On the plus side, the song does give listeners Lenny’s first real guitar solo of the record, a brief, crunchy, Hendrix lite solo that harkens back to old Lenny. It’s great that Lenny is able to humble himself to thank God for giving him everything, I just didn’t care to listen to it, at least until the cool guitar solo.
Everything is followed by I Can’t Be Without You which features some of the laziest lyrics of Lenny’s career. The song drones on and on, lingering on the chorus about how Lenny can’t be ‘Without You.’ The song has a solid driving bass underscore but the rest of it is just plain boring.
At this point, late in Black and White America, I was really beginning to lose hope. The idea of trashing a record by an artist who I truly love is not something I was looking forward to. Then, Lenny surprised me with Looking Back on Love. This bluesy ballad with seventies piano mixing with synth, a terrific bass line and a strummed electric guitar is so cool it nearly redeems the whole record.
Lenny’s honeyed vocals and romantic lyrics that are sexy without having to simulate the experience are glorious. Less is more and when Lenny drops his voice low and talk sings the line “Yeah… looking back on love,” it’s sexier than anything else on the record. Looking Back on Love is by far the best song on Black and White America and belongs on Lenny’s next greatest hits record.
And thankfully, after Looking Back on Love, Black and White America continues to recover from the struggles of the first half of the record. I am reminded a vinyl record on which all of the best songs are on the B-side. Life Ain’t Never Been Better Than it is Now has Lenny heading to the front lines in the war to save America with love.
Faith of a Child is old school Lenny with rousing hippy lyrics about brotherhood, love and community. Sunflower, featuring a solid if unnecessary guest spot by Drake, is a silky romantic throwback to 1980’s pop that plays as a perfect tribute to the late Teena Marie, the pop goddess who took Lenny in when he was a homeless, starving artist and nurtured his creativity.
Black and White America would have been better off ending right there but the ballad Dream isn’t a terrible finish. Yes, Dream is a tad snoozy and not all that memorable, but it’s certainly better than any of the early tracks on Black and White America. Dream serves a purpose as a chance to take a breath at the end of Black and White America and ponder the record as a whole.
Black and White America was released on August 22nd, 2011