A handsome tribute

By Sergio Ariza

Lenny Kravitz is something of a chameleon but not in the creative sense like Bowie, but rather in how he likes to camouflage into what he likes. At the start he wanted to be Prince, calling himself Romeo Blue and dressing like the author of Purple Rain, for his record debut he became John Lennon of the Plastic Ono Band, and for his second record he wanted to be a rock star along the lines of Hendrix. Lennon was still in the equation and now there were other influences more soul and funk like Curtis Mayfield and Sly Stone. Mama Said was the best record of his career, and although it’s far from being a classic up to the standards of the music it’s inspired on, it’s a good tribute to it just the same.  

On this record he got back to taking charge of most of the instruments, guitars, bass, keyboards, and drums are almost all his, yet the best 6-string moments are with the participation of a Slash who is unbeatable on Always on the Run, where he delivers a  masterful riff and an explosive solo in Fields of Joy. The story behind how the most famous guitarist of the moment ended up playing on a Kravitz (not yet a star) record is quite intriguing. The Guns N Roses guitarist had made some comments of praise on his debut album, specifically, he said that Let Love Rule was his favourite record for making love to his girlfriend. When Kravitz heard this, he invited him to the studio, he accepted, and before long they found they had gone to the same high school in Los Angeles. Slash took his ‘59 Gibson Les Paul Standard to the studio to record the solo on Fields of Joy, but, between takes, he got toying with a riff he had but which didn’t really fit his band. Kravitz didn’t hesitate a second and turned that funky riff into one of the best songs of his career, Always on the Run. That Les Paul duel was the moment he became a star.

But beyond the stellar appearance of Slash, Mama Said also has other fine points, the best being the soulful It Ain’t Over til it’s Over, sung in falsetto, and other delights such as Stop Draggin Around, that shows Kravitz could come up with lovely riffs of his own with his Les Paul Goldtop from 1954, a guitar that he used on all his later records. In the end the record comes up a bit short, but sounds good all they way through, with Kravitz exercising his fancy for retro, analogic sound that makes it sound more of something from 1972 than 1991. Certainly for someone so fond  of Lennon and Curtis Mayfield, and who was half way through a painful separation, his lyrics are totally trivial. 

Mama Said was an attractive record and the best of his career together with Let Love Rule and Are You Gonna Go My Way, but in the end, the promising start of his career didn’t recur and the parody consumed him. As in the episode of The Simpsons where there’s a Rolling Stones rock n roll fantasy camp, and Kravitz appears as the guy in charge of the dressing room for the aspiring rockers, he became a caricature of himself, more interested in what to put on than writing great riffs. He’s tried to modernize his sound to rid himself of the retro label, but with the the good songs remained with the old sound , and his return never materialised. Mama Said was the peak of his career and it wasn’t because of his similarity to classic rock or his bet on analogue. It was because in 1991 Kravitz was still writing songs like Always on the Run, It Ain’t Over Till it’s Over and Fields of Joy