It’s been three decades since Lenny Kravitz released, his debut album, Let Love Rule. A mind-bending blur of rock, soul, funk, and psych, the album—and Kravitz—forced a narrow-minded industry to look outside its rigid, genre-ruled box. At the time, Kravitz was equally praised for his imaginative sound as he was critiqued for being overpowered by influences. 30 years, multiple Grammys and several hits for artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson later, Kravitz has deservedly carved out a space for himself. “Not black enough,” “not white enough,” and other equally nonsensical attempts at sorting his sound into a box have morphed into simply letting Lenny Kravitz be Lenny Kravitz.
With his 11th studio album, Raise Vibration, Kravitz does just that, grabbing everything from Off The Wall-style dance floor jams to Johnny Cash-themed ballads by the balls. It’s Kravitz’s career-long message that attempts to unite all the disparate parts. “The message remains the same,” he explained in a statement about the album, “It was and always will be about love…With these songs, I offer you vibrations of peace, love and unity.”
The strongest distillations of this comes in “Raise Vibration” and “Here To Love.” The first, a bluesy, stripped back ripper before the mellotron, Mini-Moog and vaguely Native American-sounding vocals and drums run wild, name drops Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, and Gandhi to add credo to his fight. The second, a piano-based ballad has Kravitz asking, “Will we learn from the past / Our clock is running fast?” Some may find this one sappy, but his vocals are top-notch, and the sentiment is so needed and so noble that it still manages to raise a few goosebumps by the time the rousing finish rolls around.
It’s this line between cheesy and unbelievably cool that Kravitz hops back and forth over throughout the album, never convincingly staying on one side. “We Can Get It All Together” is big, stomping and has Kravitz playing practically everything himself—minus the didgeridoo. It’s what he does best: crowd-pleasing, positive-vibes rock that you can’t ever really fault. Then there’s “5 More Days Til Summer,” a boring-to-borderline-bad little number complete with cringe-inducing countdown. It’s confusing. Hell, “Johnny Cash” flips back and forth in the same song—the crazy funky, Parliament-style intro disappointingly dissolving into a lackluster ballad that definitely doesn’t need to be six minutes long. Similarly, the breezy “Ride” has a nice, 70s-AM-radio-soft-rock vibe, but nice enough six damn minutes, two of which seem to just be him repeating the same two lines.
Worth the price of admission is “Low,” a funk-tinged easy-groover about keeping a relationship grounded. It’s sexy, it’s smooth, and it’s dance floor ready. And yes, that’s Michael Jackson on backing vocals—maybe one of the most absolute stamps of cool there is. “Drop with me / Let me go / Got to keep it low,” Kravitz sings between horn stabs and Jackson’s “Hooo,” an irresistible invitation to boogie.
So here we are at the end of this album, left with the question, after 30 years, where does he stand? Is Lenny Kravitz a low-key legend? Let’s say yes—French people love him, he’s been praised and pilloried in equal measure and he has some tried-and-true bangers. Is Lenny Kravitz still cool? Not sure. This album is sending mixed messages. Will the giant scarf always be a thing? Most definitely.