Lenny Kravitz: Baptism
Genre: Straightforward, lyrically upfront and song-focused pop-rock-funk hybrid
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- “All that I want is stillness of heart,” Lenny Kravitz has sung. Indeed, the multi-talented performer has worn his ongoing struggles – relationship woes, identity crises and worldly temptation – as visibly as the tattoos that cover his left arm. While there’s little reason to doubt his sincere yearning for an undivided heart, the tattoos – along with the sunglasses, body piercings and Kravitz’ preference for trendy clothes and semi-nude poses – seem to be saying something altogether different. Such is the contradiction that is Lenny Kravitz, an increasingly ambivalent rock star whose halting Christian walk has been vulnerably aired for all to see. On his mid-‘90s album, Circus, the artist testified confidently of God’s love and of Christ’s resurrection. In recent years, his spiritual references have been geared more toward grasping the truth of God’s grace solely for his own sake. For example, on his new track, “Storm,” he sings “I walked away but I was wrong, you’re the one that keeps me strong,” while rapper Jay-Z pitches in “Only God can judge me, my heart ain’t ugly.”
Kravitz’ seventh studio album Baptism again finds the singer immersed in personal conflicts, most notably the need for spiritual connection in the midst of the hollow rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that surrounds him. While the hard-edged opener, “Minister Of Rock ‘N’ Roll” momentarily reconciles his bipolarity, the CD in its entirety reveals a somewhat divided vision. “Lady” is a rocking but relatively mindless ode to female attraction, while “Calling All Angels” is a plaintive ballad that, despite underdeveloped lyrics, says plenty about real loneliness and need. The poppy sugar rush of “California,” which provides Kravitz with an opportunity to relive his glory days of discovering classic rock and getting stoned, is quickly contrasted by the equally hooky but socially conscious “Where Are We Runnin’?,” which paints a picture of contemporary chaos and misplaced priorities: “always runnin’ here and there/ chasin’ the money/ don’t stop the party/ the road is paved but narrow/ I hope we all get home.” On tracks like “The Other Side” and “What Did I Do With My Life?,” he takes the long view, asking pointed questions about how to make his life count such as “where am I going and what am I looking towards?” and “did I honor my freedom and did I live in the light?”
He makes the best use of his growing ambivalence about musical celebrity on “Flash,” a crunchy Kiss-like nugget that mocks the shallow ambition of commercial rock yet flagrantly displays its most overt characteristics. His most direct statement on the matter emerges on “I Don’t Want To Be A Star,” in which he declares “it’s a brand new day to be myself in a different way.” His attempts to forge ahead and further define himself as an artist, however admirable, don’t necessarily result in the most focused or engaging music Kravitz has made to date. While his latest disc has been heralded as a return to form, that’s only true to an extent. The dry, upfront production style of his debut disc Let Love Rule is partly in evidence, but the material here – with the exception of a few piano-based ballads – is not as melodically lush or compelling. And if the uncluttered classic rock aesthetic of his earlier work is still in place, the salty, Hendrix-inspired guitar riffs and the fat, Led Zeppelin-esque drum attack that were earmarks of the Circus and Are You Gonna Go My Way albums are notably absent. In their place are the sizzle of synthesizers, the “eeenk” of a thin-sounding snare drum and the crispy crackle of supercharged, layered guitars. Of course, fans of his former sound and songs always can go back to the records in question. Kravitz, while not totally abandoning his trademarks, is striving to move forward and express himself honestly while still producing a commercially viable product. For that, he can hardly be faulted. The themes of self-evaluation and the search for a renewed connection with God, which comprise roughly half of Baptism, prove that he’s no mere rock’n’roll caricature but a flawed man thoughtfully pressing his way toward some meaningful answers.
Steve Morley is a free-lance journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.