Lenny Kravitz returns to form with an excellent new set of songs that make you dance as much as they make you think.
Say what you want about Lenny Kravitz, but he's the only 50 year old man on the planet who can sing "Take your knickers down and give me that treasure" and get away with it. Actually, he doesn't only get away with it; he makes it sexy, too. He makes it cool and fresh, anything but creepy.
Such is what he croons on "Dirty White Boots", the third track on his latest, excellent set, Strut. Part return-to-rock, part oh-shit-Lenny-Kravitz-still-has-it, the album is a return to a very specific and very distinct form he kind of/sort of veered away from with 2011's Black and White America. It's a form that once made him the Colossus Of Cool all the way back in 1993 with Are You Gonna Go My Way?, and even more so with 1998's somewhat ubiquitous 5. Give that guy a vest, a guitar and some sunglasses, and what you have is the single specimen that makes life unfair for most every other man in the universe.
Yet, that's not all. Because sitting on the other end of that outrageous sex appeal is a pretty talented and resilient artist. Don't forget: Let Love Rule came out in 1989. A quarter of a century later, Kravitz still manages to both impress and inspire with a killer collection of songs that will make you want to dance just as much as they make you want to think.
Consider the explosive opener, "Sex", which features the singer sounding just a little -- again, just a little -- like a Madden brother during Good Charlotte's more recent years. Kravitz makes it work, though, with a retrofitted groove that could easily be mistaken for an INXS D-side with its 1986 production and funk guitar. By the time the chorus opens up and the song settles in, Queen-esque bass line and all, you might as well hit up those stonewashed jeans for one more night out on an overtly florescent town.
But back to the influence of that soulful six-string. It's everywhere. "New York City" is a perfect candidate for two-step rocker of the year, Kravitz's tastefully danceable guitar work leading the way. Once the gospel chorus kicks in on the hook and the perfectly placed saxophone bridges the gap between verses one and two, all you want to do is dance—in a sweaty club, maybe. The harder end of that formula, most clearly found on the title track, recalls the singer's take on "American Woman", if only for the crunchily muted guitar that adds more aggression than any Mama could have ever hoped to say.
Only when he dumbs it down does Strut's legs begin to wobble. "Happy Birthday" goes all Huey Lewis on everyone (in a good way) with its 6/8 time signature and an abundance of pop-horns. But with each listen, the question of why he would even flirt with this type of cheesy territory grows more and more curious. Equally as questionable is the acoustic-rock of "She's A Beast" and the watered-down adult-top-40 of "The Pleasure And The Pain". Neither of these are bad songs, of course; they're just minor blips on a radar that otherwise is devoid of all suspicious activity.
Case in point? Check out "The Chamber", with its vicious disco groove that creates the type of murky atmosphere that Kravitz must have learned something about while spending time on all those movie sets he's been visiting in recent years. Better yet is the dramatic chorus: "I gave you all the love I had/And I almost gave you one more chance/Then you put one in the chamber/And shot my heart of glass/This time will be the last". Most impressive is how, for being one of the more desired men on the planet, he continues to make you believe how desperate and heartbroken he is in these instances. Decades after he first put art to tape, he's still able to portray and embody a specific form of loneliness that bleeds from his soul and through the microphone easier than most other pop-guitar gods in the modern day. It was hard enough to do in the late '80s; just imagine how impossible it must seem now in 2014.
Yet somehow that's Lenny Kravitz's greatest achievement on Strut: You still believe him. When he peers over those towering tom-toms on "Dirty White Boots" to demand, "Take your knickers down and give me that treasure", you can almost wipe the condensation from the mirrors. Man or woman, gay or straight: it's a turn on. It turns you on because of how it's delivered. It turns you on because you know the guy saying it is just as vulnerable as he is confident in what he wants to do. If this is the sound of a rock star turning 50, God knows what type of fun might be in store for when those Social Security checks start pouring in. That shit might be scary.