I will have to come clean here. I haven’t really listened to Lenny Kravitz since the Greatest Hits album. I’ve heard a track here or there and thought “that’s pretty good”. I think it started with “Dig In”. For some reason it felt bland to me at the time. I had owned Are You Gonna Go My Way? and loved it. I had 5. I loved the tracks I’d heard off Let Love Rule and Mama Said. In fact I really can’t say why I don’t own his first two, except that the songs I really loved are on his Greatest Hits album. So I’ve missed a few albums since then. Anyways fast forward. Lately I try to at least check it out when I see an artist I’m familiar with has a new song on Spotify. Maybe it’s because he was memorable in The Hunger Games. But I clicked on “Strut”. Wait what? What is this awesomeness? It’s gritty rock & roll. It oozes sex. It’s got a hell of a groove. Okay, wait there’s a couple other tracks! Hey these are really great too! Now I feel like I missed some great party that everyone else has known about and I decided not to go til the last minute. So a couple weeks later, Strut came out on CD. Even a special “Target Edition”. Well, hell yes I want one!
Right from the start Lenny lets you know it’s *that* kind of party. “Sex” is exactly what you’d expect. The guitar almost sounds like David Gilmour (think “Run Like Hell”). The groove is there. Lenny’s vocals are there. His libido drives this one and it’s glorious. And handclaps in the mix (I’ve said it a hundred times.. I’m a sucker for handclaps in the right places). This alone was worth picking the CD up and we’re just getting started. “The Chamber”. Well instantly my dirty mind thinks of a local adult fetish store of the same name. The music recalls that sleazy vibe. It’s a song about heartbreak, double-crossing and scandal. Except it sounds so fun. Definitely has a late-night driving vibe to it. What a choice for a first single. Next is the rock-rolling swagger of “Dirty White Boots”. A very sexed up Lenny singing “take your knickers down and gimme that treasure”. That pretty much sums it up. These songs could come off corny, but they never do. Great soloing on this one by the way.
Continuing down the dirty brick alley, we have “New York City”, which sounds like the baby of David Bowie’s “Fame” and a lost Rolling Stones jam from Some Girls. A fitting tribute to a gloriously gritty that has “lived and died so many times”. Next we have “The Pleasure and the Pain”, which is a little more bluesy and laid back, finding some of the soul from some of his earlier stuff without sounding old. Ending the second half is the song that made me start wanting this album in the first place, “Strut”. It rocks, slides, glimmers and sweats, hanging on a riff that digs in its claws instantly. Sometimes the simplest things are the best when you put your all into them and mean it. And the handclaps are added by master producer and mixer Bob Clearmountain. Listing his credits would take an entire article. Good taste Lenny! Matter of fact, while Lenny self-produced the album, Bob Clearmountain was responsible for the mixing.
The second half starts out with a different turn, while still keeping in the same overall feel of the album. “Frankenstein” has a slower funkier grind to it, while Lenny sings about the pain of being lonely turning him inside out. The female backing vocals here give it a 70s feel. Bob Seger? T.Rex? Not sure but it works. “She’s A Beast” is the first song to bring in acoustic guitars before giving way to some bluesy electric. Definitely a standout love song here, where Lenny’s soul shines through. It has a bit of that thing that made me stop and listen the first time I heard “Let Love Rule” and that made me love “Stand By My Woman”.
Next is when I have to call Lenny out. “I’m A Believer” is an unapologetic ripoff of the Rolling Stones’ “Shattered”. Hopefully on purpose. I mean he *had* to have realized right? Does that make this song bad? Nope! It’s still a fun singalong, bop-along, clap-along time. Simply because of the energy Lenny brings to the song. This is followed by “Happy Birthday”. Yes, Lenny decided it was time for a new song called “Happy Birthday”. If you were to read the lyrics out loud without hearing, you would probably wince and roll your eyes. But because the vibe on this album is so fun and full of life, somehow it works. In fact it almost sounds like the Saturday Night Live band backing him here, on one of their very best nights. “I Never Want To Let You Down” follows is a simple but soulful song with a great horn section to boost it. Oh – time out! I didn’t realize until this moment, Lenny is playing most of the instruments. Vocals, Drums, Tambourine, guitar (except most solos are Craig Ross). Well Done! That brings us to the last song. Lenny covers The Miracles’ Motown classic “Ooh Baby Baby”! He does quite a fine job of sounding like Lenny, while not killing the vibe of the original. That was an unexpected treat.
If you get the Target Deluxe Edition, you get two more tracks. Bonus tracks? B-sides? Leftovers? In the days of the 45, these both would have been b-sides worth buying the singles to own. “Lift Me Out Of My Head” is a slower rock song based around acoustic but beefed up with electric guitars, soul-searching vocals, some smokin’ sax and beautiful strings. How is this a “bonus track”? Lastly, “It Won’t Feel the Same” has some slide and 12-string acoustic guitar. This one is more of a sadder song than the rest, and a bit more subdued. A bit different but still very good. Now the iTunes version has two *different* bonus tracks. But I do not have that version to review, and it’s a shame those aren’t on a physical CD. But I’m happy with the Target Version.
So I was not expecting Lenny Kravitz to make one of my favorite albums of the year. It’s definitely time to go back and check his last few albums to see what I missed. This is one stellar album, and several of the songs here rank up there for me with those greatest hits I know so well. In a time when many gripe “what happened to rock and roll?”, Strut delivers.
Get your copy of Strut HERE:
and check out the videos here:
“The Chamber” (NSFW!):
“Strut” (Live on David Letterman):
and Lenny on the Howard Stern show last month: