Album Review: Lenny Kravitz 'Black And White America'
It’s been three years since Lenny Kravitz’s last album. In that time, he’s switched record labels, made his acting debut in “Precious,” filmed a role for the forthcoming “Hunger Games,” opened for U2 and celebrated the 20th anniversary of his first album, 1989’s “Let Love Rule.”
In other words, it’s good to be him. So it’s small wonder that there’s an air of gratitude and joy that surrounds the overwhelmingly positive “Black And White America,” out today.Though the album deals with race relations — the Steely Dan-redolent title track speaks directly to some of the issues his parents’ interracial marriage faced—the messages always come cloaked in hope.
Recorded in the Bahamas, where Kravitz sequestered himself in a trailer beside the studio, and in Paris, where he lives for half of the year, “Black & White” is a funk party with flashes of rock (he wears his deep, abiding love for Hendrix on his sleeve here as always), hip hop and jazz thrown in. Though everything Kravitz does here is deeply rooted in his stellar guitar work and the beat, it’s his most experimental album in years, especially on the jazzy improv “Looking Back On Love.”
Current single, “Stand,” which I earlier declared the song of the summer is the bright burst of pop sunshine, while heavy funk/rock slab “Come and Get It” would sound right at home on a Red Hot Chili Pepper’s album. The driving, peppy “In the Black” is a sweet, synth-fueled love song. Love apparently still rules as far as Kravitz is concerned. On the sultry “Liquid Jesus,” he declares, “I want to give you something that you thought was only fantasy.” We accept that offer. Like Marvin Gaye or Al Green, Kravitz is able to blend both the sensual and the spiritual. He clearly sees God in lots of different ways.
He’s joined by Jay-Z on “Boongie Drop,” their third collaboration together. Kravitz keeps it light, letting Hova unleash the profanity on his rap. Drake comes aboard for the bright “Sunflower” (God bless Kravitz for his fun use of a disco whistle here on the Seal-sounding track). Both rappers are nice additions, but the album stands just fine on its own.
More than 20 years into his career, Kravitz remains a true believer in the possibility and power of change. No where is that more evident than on the midtempo “The Faith of A Child” and “Dream,” two of the more uncynical pieces of music coming from a mainstream artist these days.
“Black & White America” could have used a little trimming: at 16 tracks there’s a little fat here, such as the punk/new wave “Rock Star City Life,” but that’s a small complaint for an album as robust, full and uplifting as this.