Music

Lenny Kravitz: Let Love Rule (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

Joshua O'Neill

This reissue is a quickie money-maker, without notable bonus features or new songs.


Lenny Kravitz

Let Love Rule

Subtitle: 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
Label: Virgin
UK Release Date: 2009-04-20
US Release Date: 2009-05-19
Label Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

I prize innovation far less than most music critics. Though those who push boundaries are to be admired, newness in and of itself has very little to do with quality. In these very pages I have recently praised both Ian Tyson and the Black Crowes for albums that simply execute generic tropes very well, offering nothing new. Novelty is by definition transient. A good album sounds good today, and it’ll sound good in 20 years.

So why do I hate Lenny Kravitz so much? This is the question I pondered as I listened to the 20th anniversary reissue of his debut album, Let Love Rule. Time should be kind to an inveterate appropriator like Kravitz. Pop history has a way of blurring in the rearview mirror -- what came first, and who was influenced by whom, seem to matter less and less. Time often reclaims groups that once seemed shallow and fleeting -- it seems almost hard to believe that in their day the Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, the Bee Gees, and Burt Bacharach were widely considered disposable. Kravitz is a tremendously skilled instrumentalist and an expert showman -- he seems like the kind of guy who’s ripe for a critical reappraisal. So why, with each passing year, does his music sound more plastic, inert, and -- to use a word that invites accusations of rockism -- phony?

His virtuosic musicianship might be part of the problem. Kravitz is a one-man band and a notorious control freak, rarely allowing other musicians to appear on his albums. Listen to his bluesy piano trills on “My Precious Love”, or his jittery drums on “Flower Child” -- the dude can flat-out play. (“Flower Child”, I should note, is actually quite a good song.) He’s a particularly terrific bassist, building his Prince-lite grooves from the ground up. (He may have missed his true calling to be a bad-ass bassist for a dirty funk band, instead of a eclectic superstar auteur.) But for all the monstrous talent on display, his songs feel inorganic, constructed from a blueprint instead of emerging organically. Where Prince is raw and slithering, Kravitz is calculated, clean, and precise. If good artists borrow and great artists steal, Kravitz rents by the hour.

And then there are the lyrics. Oh God, the lyrics. The titular “Let Love Rule”, the single that launched Kravitz’s tremendously successful career, informs us that “Love is gentle as a rose, and love can conquer anyone. It’s time to take a stand -- brothers and sisters join hands. We’ve got to let love rule!” It’s almost always unflattering to quote song lyrics out of context, but man, it just goes on and on. Six minutes of this tripe? Are you serious, Lenny Kravitz? He just takes John Lennon’s soggiest epigrams and multiplies them exponentially, with none of the counterbalancing effect of Lennon’s brutal, bloody-sleeved honesty. Twenty years into his career, and it’s the only thing Kravitz has ever sung about: Love is good. We should love. More love, please. He seems to believe that this is some kind of radical sentiment. (His last album was the clunkily titled It Is Time For a Love Revolution.)

This reissue is a quickie money-maker, without particularly interesting bonus features or new songs. The second disc features a live performance of ten of the album’s 13 songs, slavishly faithful to the original recordings aside from a few long sessions of jammy noodling. The six extra tracks on the first disc consist of random demos and rough mixes of songs that appeared in better versions on the album proper -- do we really need four versions of the interminable “Let Love Rule”, including one that’s 11 minutes long? -- as well as a horrifying castrated version of Lennon’s vicious and truthful “Cold Turkey”. Where Lennon sings “Cold turkey has got me on the run”, Kravitz amends it to “Cold turkey has got me on the fucking run”. And that’s Kravitz in a nutshell -- his vision of transcendence is mewling about love, and his vision of edge is dropping an F-bomb.

3

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Forty years after its initial release, one of the defining albums of US punk rock finally gets the legacy treatment it deserves.

If you ever want to start a fistfight in a group of rock history know-it-alls, just pop this little question: "Was it the US or the UK who created punk rock?" Within five minutes, I guarantee there'll be chairs flying and dozens of bloodstained Guided By Voices T-shirts. One thing they'll all agree on is who gave punk rock its look. That person, ladies, and gentlemen is Richard Hell.

Keep reading... Show less

Tokyo Nights shines a light on the roots of vaporwave with a neon-lit collection of peak '80s dance music.

If Tokyo Nights sounds like a cheesy name for an album, it's only fitting. A collection of Japanese city pop from the daring vintage record collectors over at Cultures of Soul, this is an album coated in Pepto-Bismol pink, the peak of saccharine '80s dance music, a whole world of garish neon from which there is no respite.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image