Sound — 5
Starting out as a musician that wanted to fuse the edginess of hard rock with the soulfulness of Motown, Lenny Kravitz's idea was initially turned down by record labels because they thought the hybrid wouldn't be enough of either element to catch a sizable demographic. Little would those labels realize that what resulted in Kravitz's debut album, "Let Love Rule," would be a breakthrough success for him. 25 years later, Kravitz's career has been extremely fruitful: he's worked with a laundry list of iconic musicians from Al Green to Slash and David Bowie, won four Grammys, has had four of his albums go platinum, and, perhaps most notably, crafted that damn catchy guitar riff in "Are You Gonna Go My Way." However, after his radio hits faded from heavy rotation, Kravitz would also fade from the music scene, whether because of listeners moving on or Kravitz's albums getting generally weaker, or both. Though still writing music, the last few years would show Kravitz paying more attention to an acting career - and after a rousing performance in the critically-acclaimed movie "Precious," Kravitz would end up getting cast a supporting role in "The Hunger Games" series. In fact, it was while working on that movie that Kravitz struck inspiration to create his tenth album, "Strut."
While specifically crediting his inspiration to Jennifer Lawrence, "Strut" doesn't end up being anything gimmicky like a "Hunger Games" fan fiction concept album, though with the first few tracks, Kravitz shows a clear indication that he wants "Strut" to be an album to dance to. The opening track, "Sex," immediately brings in the funk rock expected from Kravitz, but the "black sheep" track of the album is put forth next, and "The Chamber" is Kravitz's take on disco, which won't necessarily beckon a disco Renaissance (thank god), but would fare well on an episode of "Soul Train." "Dirty White Boots" takes the groove in a classic-rock direction, using the call-and-response arrangement in the verses and injecting a psychedelic guitar solo, and "New York City" picks up the funky dance party baton, also including a disco-like addition of synth-generated strings and the first appearance of saxophone, and then hands it off to the equally-funky "Frankenstein," which, despite having a riff that sounds similar to the clichéd "bow-chicka-wow-wow" caricature of '70s porn music, ends up standing out with its utilization of harmonica.
Unfortunately, as things progress, the album starts to lose intrigue quickly; the danceable mentality starts to wash away, and the fact that Kravitz still adheres to dragging on the repeating chorus outros of songs longer than need be certainly doesn't help. Kravitz regresses back to his usual bag of tricks, and sound elements lose their impact the more they're used - from the further usage of saxophone sections to the Motown-inspired harmonies. The slow jams "The Pleasure and the Pain," "She's a Beast" and "I Never Wanted to Let You Down" sound homogenous to the heavy saturation of slow jams Kravitz recorded in 2008's "It Is Time for a Love Revolution," and the main riff in "Strut" bears a fishy familiarity to the trademark riff in "Are You Gonna Go My Way." "I'm a Believer" pulls out all the classic pop rock stops - from the peppy upbeat riff to the claps and the exuberant calls of "hey!" in the chorus - and the slow-rocking "Happy Birthday" plods along, never cresting into anything worthwhile. Kravitz ends the album with a classic Motown cover, "Ooo Baby Baby" by The Miracles, and just like how Kravitz's cover of "American Woman" was little more than a refitting of the original The Guess Who track, his cover of "Ooo Baby Baby" doesn't offer much more, and Kravitz's voice is unable to reach the level Smokey Robinson had originally set.
Lyrics — 5
Out of the many music influences Kravitz has bouncing around in his brain, the lyrics he's been writing throughout his 25-year career have displayed a mix between Motown-style love songs and the "peace and love" ethos of the '60s - so much so that Kravitz's lyrics have nearly fallen into its own caricature (it takes more than two hands to count how many of his songs have the word "love" in the title). In keeping with this pattern, Kravitz is still using the l-word often in "Strut," though Kravitz shows some more edge to the topic in a few cases. While "Sex" is pretty boilerplate for Kravitz, his choice to give it the succinct and salacious title helps to establish the Rick James-esque raunchiness he wants to set for the album. This is further banked on in "Dirty White Boots" and "Strut," but with the ham-fisted lewdness it flaunts, they end up begging to be called "stripper rock." Kravitz also flexes the appropriate lyrical muscles for the "dance the pain away" theme of the disco track "The Chamber," but like the musical elements of the album, Kravitz soon slips back into his tried-and-true lyrical style with the lovey-dovey "The Pleasure and the Pain," "I Never Wanted to Let You Down," and the literarily-inaccurate "Frankenstein" (Frankenstein was the name of the doctor, NOT the monster!).
Then there's the clear indication that Kravitz is running out of things to write about with the track "Happy Birthday," which is essentially a wikiHow page on the protocol of a birthday party set to music. One could give the benefit of the doubt that the song is secretly a birthday present for the album's inspiration, Jennifer Lawrence, but seeing as her birthday was over a month ago, probably not, so "Happy Birthday" comes off as a painfully bland and unnecessary song.
Overall Impression — 5
Kravitz's previous album, "Black and White America" had Kravitz trying out things he hadn't tried within the first two decades of his career - from dancehall music to Afrika Bambaataa-esque electro funk - which resulted for the better. "Strut" shows only a bit of experimentation, and ultimately ends up having Kravitz planting his feet back in the comfort zone, using the compositional elements that he had already turned into platinum-grade classics back in the early '90s. Inside a Lucite case, these elements show why Kravitz came to prominence, but when taken out to be used on a tenth album, it's not surprising when the result comes out stale, and the lather-rinse-repeat of Kravitz's traditional style without bringing much more to the table renders "Strut" feeling nondescript.