Let Len Rule

I first saw Lenny Kravitz in 1990 on TV performing ‘Mr Cab Driver’, this incredibly cool-looking guy in a fluffy pink coat singing an equally cool track about casual racism sold me instantly.  I ordered the 10″single Mr Cab Driver and the album Let Love Rule as soon as I could afford it and, with a couple of reservations was blown away.  It was great, I was really into Lenny, he was really into me and everything was groovy I thought it would just keep getting better and this was for keeps. Little did I know that the writing was on the wall for us before it really started.  Love’s like that sometimes.

Lenny Kravitz Let Love 02

At first Kravitz was like an explosion in the K-Tel warehouse, all these great disparate bits of the 1960’s thrown up into the air and reassembled in a pretty haphazard way.  I mean that in an entirely complimentary fashion by the way, Beatles, Sly, Hendrix, War there were bits and bobs from them all in there, but with enough personality to make it work as a cohesive whole, rather than a pastiche.  Although I may have been the only one to think so as I remember all the press coverage being universally negative at the time, what the hell did I care? I was 18 and wanted music to dance and drink to, rather than to curate.

Escape from Kravitz
Escape from Kravitz

Authenticity? Hmm, there are times we rock fans seem to get SOO obsessed with it, forgetting in our po-faced way that basically all this great stuff we love is part of an entertainment business and that record companies will happily sell you today, tomorrow as a golden yesterday we all loved so much.  There are times and things that I do get all het up about in that regard, but I try to stop myself becoming too much of a boring pseud and when the results can touch these heights sometimes it’s fine; I’ve learnt, as I’ve got older, that not everything has to burn with a golden purity of purpose, neither should it.

Lenny Kravitz Cab Driver

But anyway, music and stuff.  ‘Mr Cab Driver’ is a great track, a brilliant urban shuffle which the Beatles somehow managed to plagiarise 24 years earlier in their pitiful copy, ‘Taxman’.  Playing spot-the-original isn’t really the point with Lenny Kravitz, you either listen to it and suspend your disbelief for a bit, or just step away from the stereo, fatty! I really like this tune and, of course it gets 1537 bonus points for the line, ‘Mr cab driver, Fuck you, I’m a survivor!’.  The B-sides on this sweet 10″ record are a live version of 1537-fave ‘Rosemary’, where Lenny tells the audience ‘I’m honoured to be accepted’ very earnestly* and a much extended radio session version of ‘Let Love Rule’, which is enjoyable, the band cutting loose in a far-rawer sounding version of the track which builds to a decidedly raucous end.

Lenny Kravitz Let Love 05

Let Love Rule is a mixed bag for me, brilliant in places, far too sickly in others – depends which bits of his record collection he’s been pilfering from to be honest.  There was always a bit of a whiff of contrived hippiedom about tracks like ‘I Built This Garden For Us’ and ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World’, dropping out and turning on but with a corporate safety net in place, adopting the trappings and sentiments, but not the substance.  Let’s face it folks, before passing time rendered them quaint and innocuous and before fashion attracted too many incinserios to the camp, hippiedom was as radical as it got – middle-class kids, genuinely rejecting consumerism and the material world, this was a threat! What we have here is perfectly well-crafted and no doubt well-intentioned ersatz rebellion, that’s fine, far be it from me to criticise Lenny Kravitz for being 20 years too young.

Lenny Kravitz Let Love 04

Lenny Kravitz Let Love 03

Where Let Love Rule picks up some serious traction is in terms of just how well executed, played, written and produced it is, let’s not forget that Kravitz was to all intents and purposes a one man band and his own producer this LP is a helluva feat.  In fact the production is excellent, warm and fulfilling, carrying just enough sharp edges to be real.  Take ‘Let Love Rule’, a pretty simplistic sentiment and track** but just superbly played and recorded, it really becomes far more than the sum of all its parts.  My personal favourite is ‘Freedom Train’ which is basically every nasty Hendrix jam you’d like to think he’d have gone on to make if the man was still alive, funky and mean with a guitar tone that many would kill for.   The man can definitely sing too.

Lenny Kravitz Let Love 06

Best/worst of all is ‘Rosemary’ the tale of a homeless 5-year-old, which has a very explicitly religious conclusion.  Now normally this would have me retching wretchedly into my hat, but … something about this song has always grabbed me and still exerts a hold over me even now, despite my heart having been transformed (I thought) long ago into a cold-black flinty substance by over-exposure to hardcore punk, Killdozer and Big Black.  It’s the equivalent of one of those big, soggy C&W ballads that has truckers sobbing in lay-bys from Tucson to Anchorage, that I always mock, but … I don’t know, somehow ‘Rosemary’ just seems to have the combination to the mental safe where I keep the true, mushy essence of myself.  It’s a puzzler and if it caught me just right I know I’d just grizzle and sob.  Hell, just give me those opening chords and the first line and I’m half-way there.  Incidentally the live version on the Mr Cab Driver 10″ is even better and more emotional^, as if I needed that.

Anyway, unsightly displays of emotion aside, I do really like Let Love Rule.  But it was the end of the line for Lenny and I, he may have penned the brilliant ‘Always On the Run’ but I sold Mama Said about 3 months after I bought it and I really haven’t been a fan of much else I’ve heard from him; a bad case of diminishing returns.  Sorry pal but there wasn’t really a vacancy for a less-inspired Prince in my life.  Lenny may have sung, ‘It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over’ but it was, sorry but it’s you, not me.

447 Down.

*Mr K doesn’t really do irony, ironically.

**yet another criticism, he’s not a great lyric writer and neither is Mrs Kravitz, Lisa Bonet, who penned two lyrics here.  It’s all a bit obvious and heavy-handed for me.  Maybe it’s my Britishness but I find in-your-face sincerity a bit of a difficult one to deal with, to paraphrase Mussolini it’s when I reach for my (entirely ironic) revolver.

^purely from memory I’m pretty sure Kravitz released a promo-only album recorded live in Amsterdam around the time Let Love Rule was released, I’d bet it was pretty damn good too.

27 thoughts on “Let Len Rule

  1. Great post and sums up exactly how I feel about this one, too. Spotted it on vinyl and was very tempted, though. But then I remembered that I haven’t listened to it in a long time and I feel a bit ‘mnah’ about Lenny these days.

    I actually picked up Are You Gonna Go My Way on CD for a £1 the other week. Just cause. Haven’t listened to it. Probably wont. again, just cause.

    Don’t get me wrong, he’s got some really good songs. Enough to compile a compilation. Sadly, that wouldn’t do, though. Cause it would be a Greatest Hits. With the songs that aren’t really that good. And there’s one o’ them already.

    … what was I saying … oh aye, I think maybe I should have bought this when I seen it.

    Next time.

  2. This is a fantastic post. I was working at Atlantic Records when Let Love Rule came out, and since we distributed Virgin Records at he time I got an early pressing of this album not knowing anything about him. I loved it immediately, with “Mr. Cab Driver” being the standout track. I actually loved the whole thing but it’s been too many years since I’ve played it for me to know if I agree with your overall assessment. I do know that I stuck with Lenny for another couple of albums but then I lost interest. I don’t dislike his music but it’s been at least 20 years since I bought any of his records. I’ll have to give Let Love Rule another spin soon to see how it’s held up for me.

      1. I gave “Let Love Rule” a spin today, the first one in MANY years. It definitely holds up. I still enjoy the claustrophobic sound of the album, which is much more intimate & inviting than anything he’s done since. I was also reminded of the comparison I used to describe Kravitz’ voice to friends when this came out. He sounds like a cross between Elvis Costello and John Lennon. I hear other influences as well, but I think that’s a pretty apt description of his vocal style. I continue to be impressed that he played just about every instrument on the record, and everything is performed in service of the songs as opposed to showing off his abilities.

        I love when an old album holds up after many years. Thanks for inspiring me to pull this one off the shelf.

      2. Hi Rich, I’m so glad you gave it another spin and right with you on the production in particular – I think it’s such a shame he didn’t develop his career more that way; a bit like Dan Auerbach.

        The impression I get was that it just became easier and easier for him to trot out the same references for cash and he stopped trying to push the envelope artistically – although (just to contradict myself) I notice he did make a more electronic LP fairly recently too.

  3. Nicely done, Mr 1537. You encapsulated both the pros and the cons of being in thrall to your influences. Funny, I was on a similar trajectory last week with the Gary Numan post.
    This one also reminded me of our previous dialogue about Tom Waits. For those times when you can just lie back and immerse yourself in the theatre, it’s great fun.

    PS. I traded in Mama Said after less than six months too. A pastiche too far.

    1. Thanks Bruce. Ultimately there just wasn’t enough Kravitz in the mix, he just took the easy way out for a fast buck and started recycling even more blatantly. Sad, he could have been a contender, rather than an ersatz Prince.

  4. This is an excellent album. I was on the Lenny bus for a while there, with this early stuff, right up to Are You Gonna… I’m sure I missed a bunch after that… then we saw him live. Mike will remember my rant. Anyway, short version: it was multi-act gig in Clarkston, Michigan, 1999. Cree Summer (remember her from the Cosby spin-off? Yeah), Everlast (who was sick and in a bad mood), Black Crowes (band we were there to see) and Lenny was headliner. He came on all soul revival, had the place jumping. We were 15th row center, I saw it all. Including the lip-syncing. Mofo lost me then. Well, by the time he decided he just HAD to be out in the crowd and made multiple security people protect him from being mauled (while getting pummeled thmselves), I was done with him. I’m glad you brought up the old stuff, though. I really liked that stuff.

    1. Lip-syncing?!! No. Clearly he was 9/10 years past his sell-by date then. He should have been well capable of putting on a good show. That’s sad.

      Good producer too, maybe he should have taken his career that way?

      1. Saw it with these two eyes, plain as day. It was so off-putting I was ready to head for the exits.

        I’ll tell you this, though. His drummer at the time (no idea it she still is) was Cindy Blackman and she… oh man, she was slumming with Lenny. What a GREAT drummer! She totally ruled that kit. Just fantastic.

        Hard to say on production, lots of people still wanna hear the guy. He’s releasing a new album today, so on some level he’s still going.

      2. Oh man, that lady drummer Cindy Blackman was the shit! She was great. I looked her up, she has some CDs of her own. Just took us to school, that night. Damn.

        Yes, lip-syncing. Maybe not all the time, for every song, but I totally saw it clearly. He’d deny it (probably).

        I should tell the story of that show on KMA. There’s lots more. It was an eventful…um… event.

  5. Oh yeah this was a great album. Mr Cab Driver is still to this day one catchy hookey tune! This album just smashed out at a time when Hair Metal was ruling everywhere and this held it’s own and it’s safe to,say it outlasted a lot of others as well!
    MR CAB DRIVER….beep beep I’m A Survivor!

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