Steve Swift’s Undiscovered Gems : Strut

OK, I admit it, Lenny Kravitz album Strut is so much better than I thought.

The Background

I’m a Lenny Kravitz fan. For me, he comes from the tradition of Prince, Funkadelic, and Rick James. But it didn’t start like that.

It started with me downstairs in an HMV record store, looking in the vinyl and suddenly realising there was a lot of one album in front of me. Then noticing I was on my own in the room. Except for one man. Next to me, looking at his face on the covers of his debut ‘Let Love Rule’ was Mr L. Kravitz.

Lenny Kravitz gave us Strut
Credit; GQ

The store had left me in the room and here I was, next to the burgeoning star. My mind takes up the story. I wasn’t a fan, felt he was a bit, you know, obvious, so said something rude and pushed past him, even though it was a long way round, leaving the room.

I probably didn’t. I probably just busied myself looking at the latest obscure Funk releases until hurried out by security. But that moment has stayed with me.

It was the second album, the funkier, rockier ‘Mama Said’, which hooked me. The horns and guest rock solo, in ‘Always in The Run’ casually introduced with a quiet ‘Slash…’, this was brilliance. And the great thing about my love for Lenny Kravitz music? Not every album was brilliant; for every ‘Circus’ there was a ‘Baptism’, for every ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’, ‘It Is Time For A Love Revolution, nothing awful, just not living up to very high standards.

Kravitz did what he wanted and continues to.

And So To Strut

I had high expectations. After the excellence of the funkier ‘Black And White America’, this one promised to be tauter, more direct, not better, just different. He even had his abs out on the cover, for goodness sake!

And when I heard it, I was disappointed. Yes, it was more direct at times, at others it let go and followed a retro Soul feel. That wasn’t particularly welcome.

The tighter songs didn’t seem special. They seemed more commercial, simpler, not Lenny Kravitz songs. And so I frowned, putting Strut to one side.

This was in 2014. And I haven’t listened to it since. But. But. Perhaps my view was conditioned by love of the album before it.

And so I returned to it. Oh, I’m glad I did.

The Songs

First up is ‘Sex’, a provocative title, but as Alex Harvey said ‘there’s no such thing as a dirty book, it’s just the way you read it’. This has a razor-sharp guitar reminiscent of ‘Fame’ and a free bass driving the tune, entering a Glammy Disco tunnel, emerging to a repeating of the title whilst that guitar jabs and the bass caresses.

It doesn’t do much, it just holds you under the glitter ball whilst people dance around you. It has the tightness and tautness of brittle Funk. And I love it.

Then the title track. It does have a feel of tripping down the street in your best clothes, wearing that thing you bought that you never thought you could carry off but know tonight you can. It’s simple, one central choppy Funk riff, a descending rhythm guitar, a gang telling you to ‘Strut!’ repeatedly, and a guitar solo lighting you up quickly. It has simplicity, it has sass, it has a catwalk style, and it ennervates.

Then? The basement Funk of ‘Frankenstein’ with the barely believable cry to a lover that ‘I feel like Frankenstein’ as female Soul backing vocalists chant ‘love’. ‘The Chamber’ unpacks that bass, such a feature on electro-infused tracks, this has a Disco wish but a Soul intention too, when it opens out to the chorus, it’s almost a Motown pastiche. And don’t forget the dirty, bubbling riff and fruity sax which are two of the only features of ‘New York City’, a shot right to the pleasure centre.

And there’s a GBGBs faux bubblegum Punk ‘I’m A Believer’ with a loose Rockabilly type riff and early 80’s messy energy among handclaps (8 people are credited with handclaps on this album).

The Not So Special

There will always be tracks like this in every Lenny Kravitz album and that’s part of his charm. Here it’s big glammy ‘Happy Birthday’, sax wailing, powerchords adding a Glam feel, it does sound like a 70’s Pop song and not a good one. And when followed by the standard bedroom type Soul of ‘I Never Want To Let You Down’ with it’s ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag of love’ opening line, these two tracks hold up the album.

Luckily the album closes with the 60’s Motown style sumptuous offer of ‘Ooo Baby Baby’

Strut Is Right Up There

With other excellent Lenny Kravitz albums. Of which there are quite a few. Renowned for Sound may believe;

‘Strut definitely goes Lenny Kravitz’ way, but the last handful of tracks just didn’t seem to cut it…’

I think the only almost stinker is ‘Happy Birthday’ which some will love for its warmth and Funkatopia rounds it up nicely;

‘The 12-track album (14 if you got the Bonus versions) is a collection of tunes that are rough and unfiltered.’

I hear songs that are so airless they might expire if they play many more notes and that’s unusual airy, flower child with a flying V guitar Kravitz. His next album ‘Raise Vibration’ was more open and I don’t think he’s ever been so precise and dangerous.

This album; Strutting around with a flicknife.

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