Lenny Kravitz is best known as Mr. Lisa Bonet, the dreadlocked dilettante whom the Bill Cosby Show actress married in a quickie ceremony in Las Vegas a couple of years back. But Let Love Rule should change that image. This debut album is stunningly fresh, infinitely listenable, unusually thoughtful, and, while Kravitz’s message is full of rage toward today’s rampant selfishness and ignorance, it has a hopeful and joyous side. Kravitz produced Let Love Rule himself, and his sound bears an uncanny resemblance to the post-Beatles John Lennon, although Lennon alone never quite achieved Kravitz’s intensity, raw edge or soulfulness.
The album opens with a single guitar strumming into Kravitz’s voice singing his own “Sittin’ on Top of the World.” This Spartan beginning is soon layered with other instruments as his voice reaches a piercing, full crescendo that sounds as heartfelt as anything since Janis Joplin. Kravitz played most of the instruments himself, yet he achieves the immediacy of live recording, especially on “Let Love Rule,” an extended jam that couldn’t be more full-bodied and spiritual if it were sung by an entire church choir. It puts Madonna‘s “Like a Prayer” to shame.
Many of the tracks have a ’60s peace-and-love message that will please the post-yuppie, neo-hippie, tie-dye set that has become fashionable of late. On the other hand, the more cynical will be tempted to sneer at Utopian songs like “I Build This Garden for Us” and “Flower Child” (CD and cassette only): “She’s a psychedelic princess on a magic carpet ride.”
But most of Kravitz’s social consciousness is ’80s based. “Fear,” which he wrote with Bonet, looks at urban blight and the environment: “I smell the fear that rains inside/ The thought of children who must oblige/ To tainted dreams in polluted seas/ The missing moon and melting trees.” “Mr. Cab Driver,” superficially a cute song, is really about the racial politics of hailing a taxi. As Kravitz says, “Mr. Cab Driver won’t you stop to let me in/ Mr. Cab Driver don’t like my kind of skin.”
The album’s main flaw is that its reflexive political correctness can be cloying—only the “Nuke the Whales” crowd could oppose most of his positions—and the quality of the message is diluted by the quantity of complaints. At least Kravitz seems aware that he lacks subtlety. “Have I forsaken you by telling you what you must do?” he asks on one track. “All I do is sing the blues.” (Virgin)