I was wrong about Lenny Kravitz. Well, mostly. Back in 1993, when I was a full-time music critic and his Are You Gonna Go My Way was released, I don’t recall even listening to it (nothing in the handbook said you had to check out every new disc that hit the desk). I had already dismissed Kravitz as a hack, a guy who went slumming through genres without having an authentic feel for any of them. In a word, soulless.
When the 20th anniversary reissue (two discs, with extras) came my way — via download, natch — I thought, what could be the harm? It turns out that Kravitz wasn’t a vapid copycat, but a savvy aggregator of styles. Are You Gonna Go My Way is still pretty slight, but it is energetic, catchy and — as the Village Voice said of him at the time — the fucker rocks. Exhibit One is the title song, driven by an irrepressible guitar riff and Kravitz’s strutting vocal.
The rest of the original album wears its retro influences on its puffy sleeves. The Beatles (“My Love” could be an outtake from Revolver), Hendrix, Cream, Sly, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Bob Marley, Prince. The songs more or less alternate between power-pop, gentle soul and acoustic ballads. Nearly all hit some kind of sweet spot, and most contain a damn respectable ’60s-flavored guitar solo.
Perhaps the most revelatory aspect of the disc is just how raw the production is. “Heaven Help,” a slow-burn R&B number, cruises along on little more than a piano, acoustic guitar, bass and drums. On rock songs like “Is There Any Love In Your Heart,” “My Love” and “Come On and Love Me,” the guitars surge with an unvarnished urgency (in certain spots you can even hear amplifier hum).
Where Kravitz deserves ample derision is in his lyrics, which make moon-June-spoon look like Paradise Lost. I pored over the (pointless) lyric sheet trying to discern the lamest sequence, and, man, it took some doing; there was plenty of competition. I came up with this: “Black girl, you shine as the night / Black girl, you move me so right / I just have to make you mine / ’Cause you make me lose my mind.”
The bonus material includes some worthy stuff, especially the seven remastered B-sides that fill out Disc One. The grinding rocker “Spinning Around Over You” and the smoldering “All My Life” are definitely A-list material. Disc Two, less satisfying, consists of a few acoustic versions, demos and outtakes that will likely be of interest to only serious Kravitz fans. (Critics' Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 Stars).
Excellent review, sorry I missed the concert.
I was fortunate to see Bonnie Raitt. Her stage presence was heart warming and her…
loved it! Well worth the $$.