Don't let the nose ring fool you: Inside Lenny Kravitz's dreadlocked dome lurks rock's version of the Dude, the woozy love-generation survivor who recently shambled through the Coen brothers movie The Big Lebowski. On the second track from his fifth album, Kravitz sounds as if he's having a doozy of a flashback: "He's spreading super love vibrations for a better day/Electronic super soul vibrations coming all the way."
Though Kravitz announces at the top that he's "getting straight in '98, y'all," there are few indications that 5 lives in the present. The multi-instrumentalist's latest vibration is the funky side of his record collection, circa 1968-1975, with nods to Stevie Wonder's Clavinet-driven pop, James Brown's bomb-the-bass beats and Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys. Kravitz knows how to turn instrumental riffs into instant-gratification hooks: the guitar that blasts "Fly Away" into orbit, the bass that ticks like a heartbeat on "I Belong to You." But as on his four previous albums, Kravitz plays transparent games of Name That Tune: "Live" sounds like which Sly Stone song? (Answer: "Life.") "Straight Cold Player" rewrites which Average White Band hit? (Answer: "Pick Up the Pieces.") Even Kravitz's newfound passion for electronica sounds secondhand "Black Velveteen" cops Tears for Fears' mid-Eighties synth-pop anthem "Shout."
Kravitz's lyrics can exude a dippy romantic's charm, as when he's peering into his "Little Girl's Eyes." But when he's pleading for the planet's survival on "Can We Find a Reason," the ever earnest singer sounds in dire need of the Dude's most essential attribute: a sense of humor. (RS 788)
(Posted: May 18, 1998)
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