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Review: The fine return of rock swashbuckler Lenny Kravitz

September 6, 2018

This cover image released by BMG shows "Raise Vibration," a release by Lenny Kravitz. (BMG via AP)

Lenny Kravitz, “Raise Vibration” (BMG)

In these divided times, we need a musical hero to bring us together. Preferably, we need a rock ‘n’ roll swashbuckler who can carry a message of love and a whole lot of funk. We need Lenny Kravitz.

Thankfully, here he comes with the eclectic 12-track “Raise Vibration,” an album that’s both scolding and wistful. It might be uneven, but when Kravitz is in full groove mode, he’s still brilliant. He’s even managed to raise Michael Jackson from the grave.

The first half is the Kravitz we know and love, the guy standing at the intersection of ’70s rock, soul and blues, not afraid of a horn section. It’s music that resembles its maker’s style — cool sunglasses, motorcycle boots and well-worn jeans.

He comes out of the gate with the foot-stomping, arena-ready “We Can Get It All Together” and then gets gorgeously slinky in “Low,” which loops an old Jackson “Hoo!” from a past recording session. (That might sound creepy but it’s handled nicely and understated.)

On the standout “It’s Enough,” Kravitz gets downright preachy in a Marvin Gaye vibe, tackling racial problems, police mortality, war and environmental problems. “Why has all the food become modified?/ Pushing all your drugs just to keep us high,” he sings.

He keeps up the pressure on the psychedelic anti-war anthem “Who Really Are the Monsters?” and promotes peaceful protest in the tambourine-heavy title cut. “Let your ego die,” he advises in it.

As usual, Kravitz plays most of the instruments himself, with longtime guitarist Craig Ross. Most of the songs clock in at over 5 minutes, letting Kravitz add, say, a saxophone or a conga solo.

The fifth song needs some background to fully enjoy it. Yes, Mr. Kravitz did just sing: “Just hold me like Johnny Cash.” Evidently the Man in Black and his wife, June, comforted a distraught Kravitz after he learned that his mother had died. That tenderness is captured in the country-ish “Johnny Cash.”

There are actually three references to dead music icons on “Raise Vibration.” In addition to Jackson and Cash, Kravitz in the credits thanks “The Spirit of Prince Rogers Nelson.”

The album hits a wall halfway through, with “Gold Dust” failing to make much of an impact and the very thin “Ride” containing some of the most irritating synthesizer work this decade. The closer, “I’ll Always Be Inside Your Soul,” is flat and uninspired. Still, Kravitz has given us enough meaty tunes to last us until he’s ready again to come riding to our rescue.

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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