“She ate my heart / I love New York City,” sings Lenny Kravitz, oh so passionately, on “New York City,” one of the best cuts from his primo new album Strut. Roughly ten years ago on his Baptism record he did a tune called “California,” putting the golden state up on a pedestal, the song as glimmering as could be. And that’s just the kind of flashy vibe that most of California gives off. New York City is a bit more gritty though, I think, and so it’s fitting that Lenny should praise it on one of his grittiest albums to date. In fact, Strut is arguably the rawest album he’s ever released.
One thing you have to admire Lenny Kravitz for is how he always sticks to his guns, staying true to himself with every release. (He’s so pure that he always writes, produces and plays almost every instrument on his albums.) He’s had some hit singles over the years, but that almost seemed to happen by accident. Aside from that “American Woman” cover, I don’t think any of the music he’s made has been done in the interest of having hit singles. But even if it has, he’s always sounded like a ’70’s superstar on each release, save for a few tunes on 5, which was certainly his most contemporary release to date at the time it was released in 1998. Come to think of it, it’s still his most contemporary release because he’s been back in his luscious retro mode ever since, this in spite of the fact that the album had some hits and he could have very easily made another album in that vein in the interest of having more if he’d wanted to. But Lenny is a true artist, making his music because he’s compelled to, his heart and soul overflowing with these terrific songs that he just has to let out or he’d probably go insane.
Another reason I admire Lenny is that he always makes albums that are meant to be listened to from start to finish, not to be cherry-picked away at. Each album is a complete body of work, like when a painter does a series of connected paintings that are meant to be viewed as a series or collection, each one tied to the others. Most artists these days put their best songs up front, but Lenny doesn’t do that. Granted, the first two songs on Strut are those that have been released as singles thus far, “Sex” and “The Chamber,” but if you listen to the album you’ll quickly realize that those aren’t even the best songs. You’ll also realize that there aren’t any bad songs on the album. But let me tell you about some of my favorites…
“Dirty White Boots” is, as a matter of fact, as dirty as “Sex.” “You know you turn me on / In your dirty white boots,” Lenny sings. Later, “You know the games we play / Give me so much pleasure.” The sonorous drums especially kick some major ass on this one, though the guitars are hot as hell, too. The same could be said about “Strut,” the built for sex title track.
If you like horns, you’re sure to love the mid-tempo number “Happy Birthday,” which packs some juicy saxophone. Like most of the songs on hand it’s super soulful and chock full o’ warm vibes. I reckon it’s suitable for dancing, too, the music feeling as though it’s swaying from side to side. “Happy, happy / Happy birthday / Happy birthday to you,” he sings and you can picture him in the studio, recording it with a big ol’ smile on his face.
“I need love,” Lenny sings on “Frankenstein.” “You say that I’m your baby / But I feel like Frankenstein.” Here, he spices things up with gospel singers and some exhilarating harmonica. His spot-on bass guitar work shines here as well. And, as if all of that wasn’t enough, he adds extra salt in the form of the sax.
At this point in time, Lenny is both iconic and a living legend. He’s not someone you compare to other artists. He’s someone you compare other artists to. But I’ll make an exception regarding the exceptional R&B-injected ballad “I Never Want To Let You Down,” which calls to mind a now legendary band, The Black Crowes, especially during the heartfelt chorus. It’s followed by another ballad, a cover of the Smokey Robinson and The Miracles classic “Ooo Baby Baby.” You could call it paint-by-numbers, but when a song is that perfect you just don’t mess with it. To that end, I realize some of you are reading this and thinking that Lenny shouldn’t have even covered it then, but let me assure you that Lenny was meant to sing this song. His voice just slides right into it, naturally, like a hand into a perfect-fitting glove.
It’s my hope that you’ll read this review and go listen to the entire album. I wrote about the above specific songs just to give you an idea of what the album sounds like, not so you could go listen to those songs and disregard the rest of the record. You’d be doing yourself a great disservice if you did that.