Since his debut in 1989, Lenny Kravitz has been pretty consistently pelted with scorn. Initially, it was because most people (the few who knew who he was, anyway) knew him as the hippie-dippy husband of The Cosby Show’s Lisa Bonet. Even as Lenny built up successes as his own entity (and divorced Bonet), the criticisms continued. Whether it was his deliberately retro sound, his lack of originality, or his occasionally banal lyrics, Lenny couldn’t (and still can’t) seem to catch a break with critics.
22 years after his debut, Lenny’s still making successful records, still a very pretty man, and the critics that initially maligned him are probably working at Subway, but that’s not to say that the criticisms that have been leveled are unfair. Obviously, Lenny loves music and is an extremely talented musician, often writing/playing/singing his songs all by himself. However (and I say this even as a fan) a lot of his songs are really derivative and his lyrics can be absolutely cringeworthy at times. As a result, his albums-especially the recent ones- are generally quite inconsistent. Black & White America, his ninth studio album and his first for the Roadrunner label after a two-decade run with Virgin Records, is no different.
Black & White America’s title is intriguing, and it speaks to much of the music Lenny has done over the years (although I wish the album title informed the lyrics more). As a biracial man who came of age in the Eighties, he obviously has a wide breadth of personal and musical experiences with which to draw from. Black contains everything from power-pop to hard rock to soul to reggae. Not many artists make music this eclectic-Lenny deserves props for being able to function competently in just about any genre he chooses. Occasionally, this results in great music. His poppier work tends to be better executed, as evidenced by the funky (and autobiographical) title track, single “Stand” (which is a great slice of power-pop), and the drum ‘n bass-flavored “Sunflower” (which features a guest appearance from Drake).
The issue (or one issue, anyway…) is that his rockers are almost completely faceless. Nothing will probably ever top the banality of his GAP commercial-assisted hit “Lady”, but songs like “Come On Get It” and “Everything” are almost as generic as their titles. You ever play that game with songs where you try to guess the rhyming word or phrase in the second couplet? I play that game a lot with Lenny Kravitz. And I usually win. The fact that Lenny’s still spouting off the most generic rock ‘n roll cliché or love lyrics after over two decades is a bit disappointing. Auto-pilot is never a good thing.
I should have known that something was gonna be an issue from the second I laid my eyes on the CD cover. There are 16 tracks on Black & White America. SIXTEEN! While sixteen tracks was the norm for anyone who grew up in the Nineties or the early 00s’, it also holds true that when an artist makes an album with this many songs, there’s bound to be some filler. Had Lenny removed four or five tracks from Black & White America, we might be looking at a more compact and solid record. Not to say Lenny’s made a bad album, because in spots, Black & White America is a very…well, I wouldn’t necessarily say inspired, but there are some good jams on here. However, there’s certainly no ground broken, and there’s very little on here you haven’t heard before-whether from Lenny himself or someone else.
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