Review Summary: '5' Proves to be Kravitz' Most Accomplished Work to Date, with an Easy to Digest Formula of Funk, Rock, and Electronica.
Put simply, Lenny Kravitz gets a lot of unfair criticism. Sure his peacenik lyrics and shirt off promo shots can come across as smug, but what Lenny Kravitz does so admirably well is the production of charming retro aural candy. Kravitz’ fifth effort, the aptly titled ‘5’, found Kravitz in the most difficult apex of his recording and personal career: his last effort, Circus, hampered by the passing away of his mother, quickly faded due to Kravtiz’ straying from his signature glam-funk style to an of kilter brand of straightforward, though cynical rock & roll.
From the outset, it is clear that Kravitz’ aimed to shakes things up on the recording of ‘5’. The intro track, ‘Live’, bursts with an evanescent vitality that had not been seen since ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’, as a gleaming horn section and sharp percussion compliment Kravitz’ signature Hendrix-like vocal timbre. The sophomore track, ‘Super Soul Fighter’, reveals that Kravtiz’ had delved even further into his Sly Stone record collection as choir harmonies sing, “he’s coming to spread funk throughout the nation” to the funkiest of funky fretwork in what is the album’s prime antithesis to ‘Circus’.
One major issue with Kravtiz’ early work was the display of a lack of influences that stretched beyond the early 1970’s. In ‘5’ the use of loops and synthesizers becomes more prevalent than ever before. ‘I Belong to You’ flaunts live syncopated loops and programmed drumbeats as a backdrop to Lenny’s classic love ballad formula, though one with heartfelt melody and lyricism stronger than anything in his previous discography. However, it is on the industrial electronica of ‘Black Velveteen’ that Kravtiz explicitly flaunts his newfound Gary Numan influences for the first time (something seriously uncool in the late 90’s). While odd lyrics, “Nice piece of kit/ Electronic clit” impairs the credibility of Kravitz’ foray into electronica, ‘Black Velveteen’ remains a guilty pleasure through its fusion of early 80’s synth work with soaring, memorable melodies and intricate harmonies.
For good and bad alike, Kravtiz soon finds himself slipping on his most comfortable shoes and following a predicable, though mostly memorable stroll down 70’s soundtrack avenue. “Fly Away” needs no introduction, with its immediate riff, slap bass, and hook that still sounds fresh today, while “Thinking of You” (an ode to his mother) is perhaps the most emotional, raw, and genuine piece of music Kravtiz has ever written. After the delectable semi-instrumental that is ‘Straight Cold Player’, the plod soon proves too tiring for Kravitz, who lazily transforms the LP into a snooze fest featuring the equally forgettable and dreamy ‘You’re my Flavor’ and the “why did he bother"” copy and paste cover of The Guess Who’s ‘American Woman’.
Perhaps this is a little harsh. For even the most casual of listeners, ‘5’ is Kravitz’ most accessible, instant, varied, experimental, and thus his most accomplished work to date. One that offers a plethora of earworm cuts that more than balances out the smattering of average tracks on the LP.
Thinking of You
Straight Cold Player