Now, we're always being told not to judge books etc. by their covers, but with Lenny Kravitz's latest offering the album artwork gives a pretty good indication of what lies within. The Kodachrome colours of the portrait of (presumably) the artist as a young man. The peace and love slogans painted on his face. The angular font contrasting the modern against all that retromania. If you're thinking you're in for a modern master's take on the music of the past, you'd be about right, as this is Kravitz's hymn to funk, soul and all things with a loping groove.
The album's title track and calling card is also the mission statement, an uptempo Stevie Wonder stomp that actually had me reaching for the guitar to jam along on the first listen. It's a ferociously catchy little number with inch-perfect production on the lively horn section stabs, and a fine vocal turn from LK, who's running his croonings through the funk-o-meter as if his life depended on it.
Which is actually not far from the message of the song, and the album as a whole. It's all about diversity, not just of the music but of the cultural diversity in the US that he sees as something hard won, and something that must still be fought for. The title track is unabashedly autobiographical, referencing his parents' experiences as a mixed race couple in the 1960s who were at risk simply walking down the street together. The relief that times have changed is palpable as Kravitz sings 'maybe we have finally found our common ground' against a wall of hopeful brass and foot-tapping goodness.
'Come on and get it' picks up the ball and runs with it, adding a harder edge and letting Kravitz flex those lead guitar muscles against another slab of proficient soul rock, changing his vocal gears up from Stevie-style positivity to sweaty hip-grinding screams more befitting the bordello than the pulpit.
A few more tracks in, though, past the cringeworthy soapy croonings of 'Liquid Jesus' and by-the-numbers Rainbow rip-off 'Rock Star City Life', doubts definitely start to creep in. Kravitz is so deft at switching styles and effortlessly aping soul, rock and even dancehall beats that the record as a whole takes on a smooth, practised sheen that masks any real heart. It's definitely there on 'Stand', 'Superlove' and the cracking title track, but there are also plenty of very professional, but not very personal, fillers.
Back to that cover image, and the clue's there. It's in the expression of the young fellow: he wears the peace and love slogans sincerely and beautifully, but he looks so damned serious at the same time, and too often on this album that serious, precise approach gets in the way. By sacrificing a little of the shine, Kravitz could probably have let more of his soul come to the fore here.
But if 'Black and White America' isn't the far reaching pan-societal rallying cry that the title track suggests...well, let's not be too harsh. It's a lot to expect of anyone. Leave it to Stevie and Marvin and crank up the volume on 'Everything' instead, and enjoy the joyous collision of styles that Kravitz is so good at. Now there's sweet harmony for you.
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