It’s Epic Review Time! The fourth review from Mike and Aaron Go to Toronto…Again! Yet another score from Sonic Boom! I bought this one new, for $24.99. Warning: image heavy!
LENNY KRAVITZ – Are You Gonna Go My Way (2013 Virgin deluxe edition, 1993 vinyl edition)
Man, I love this record. This was the last legitimately great Lenny Kravitz album. I’m pleased that with a fresh 2013 remastering job, it still sounds vital and raw. Back in those days, Lenny was recording on vintage equipment all but exclusively. In the included interview track, Kravitz discusses the collection that he and drummer Henry Hirsch had acquired, including gear that dated back to the 1940’s and 50’s. The upkeep of said equipment is a nightmare, he states, as you can imagine. The results that it yielded, especially on Are You Gonna Go My Way, justify the antique gear and maintenance costs.
I first got this sucker on (clear vinyl) LP back in ’94, which came with a stellar 8-song bonus CD. I didn’t even have a good way of playing vinyl back then. My turntable was pretty crap, so I never actually played the LP. I got Are You Gonna Go My Way on CD a bit later, used, when I started working at the Record Store. Now I can discard that old CD, because this deluxe renders it obsolete. (But not the vinyl; more on that in a bit.)
Hopefully everyone knows the energetic title track, a massive smash hit single. The simple repeating guitar riff is nothing but classic. The track itself is basic blues-based classic rock, albeit with the tempo maxed out. This track convinced that Lenny was ready, willing and able to be a rock hero, filling the shoes of his forebears such as Zeppelin and Hendrix. Yet it was actually the second single, the organ-based ballad “Believe”, that shows what Lenny is truly capable of. I consider this his best song, bar none. The 2001 influenced video was so cool, but the delicate song stands on its own. Its ending is epic in quality.
The other singles on the album included the frighteningly good soul-rock song “Is There Any Love In Your Heart.” The guitar riff is pure rock, the falsetto vocal pure soul. The song is deceptively angry. Though Lenny does not sound enraged, the lyric is pretty clear:
“Babe you say I’m the only one,
But you’re fucking all my friends,
Baby all that you care about,
Is Gucci and Mercedes Benz,
You’re just the kind that’s up on all the latest trends.”
The last single from Are You Gonna Go My Way was the gentle love song, “Heaven Help”. The amazing acoustic track was softer than I generally liked, but it’s hard not to. It spawned a five-track CD single (or EP?), which we’ll get to shortly.
Singles aside, the album is loaded with incredible deep cuts. One of the best is the emotional “Sister”, which really knocks you out by the end. “Sugar” boats some cool, funky retro horns. “Eleutheria” is reggae; I can’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s also a standout, and probably could have been a single in its own right. “My Love” is psychedelic, while “Just Be A Woman” is simply lovely. There is plenty of variety on Are You Gonna Go My Way, without sounding fragmented. It still sounds completely unified.
There’s only one tune I still don’t like, which is “Black Girl”. It’s one of the softer numbers, but I just don’t find it catchy at all. But it’s the only one.
The deluxe edition is jam packed with value. Disc one boasts seven bonus tracks, all of astounding quality for B-sides. These tracks had been previously issued on the aforementioned “Heaven Help” single and vinyl edition, so I am well familiar with each. The upbeat “Ascension” should have been a hit. “All My Life” is as strong as any of the album cuts. “Brother” is the funkiest thing here, and maybe should have been included for that reason. “Someone Like You” is a cool, 60’s-style droning rock song, a bit more upbeat than “My Love”. “For the First Time” is a quiet slow dance, so for that reason, I can see why it was excluded. On an album, it could kill momentum. On a dance floor, it would result in many babies being conceived later in the evening.
Without a doubt, the most hilarious moment is the song “B-Side Blues”, a dirty spontaneous sounding song with spiteful lyrics. In the words, Lenny complains that he’s been working hard, and only has six days off. Yet the record company wants new songs! This is what Lenny presumably gave them. “Take this song and shove it up your ass,” croons Lenny. Fortunately there’s enough Zeppelin-y blues here to keep the party going. “Top 40, yeah!”
The second CD has some great hotel room acoustic recordings. Sounds like cassette to me! “Believe” is one I had previously, on the vinyl edition. The rest are new to me, but every bit as raw and plaintive as the acoustic “Believe”. Then there are some fantastic unfinished songs and demos. I could not believe the quality of his throw-aways. I don’t know if these tunes surfaced later on or not, but they certainly should. “Work Like the Devil” has elements that sound like “Are You Gonna Go My Way”, but it’s definitely not the same song. It only has about half the lyrics in place, but damn. If it was on the album, it would have been a highlight. Most of these demos are loud rock jams. “Getting Out” though is a pure funk jam, sounding similar to Zeppelin’s “The Crunge”. The best of these songs is the instrumental “Blood/Papa (A Long and Sad Goodbye)” which, once you get past the name is a 10 minute slow jam. In my opinion, this one doesn’t need to be finished. I think it’s perfect as-is.
The last three songs are rough demos of songs written for the album Vanessa Paradis, which Lenny wrote and produced. These are a bit soft for my tastes. They are very unlike the rest of the material on this deluxe edition. I know that “Lonely Rainbows” was on the album, but I don’t know if the other two were used under different names.
Finally, I want to mention two songs that I know of that are missing from this deluxe. From the vinyl’s bonus CD is a live version of “Sister”. This take is absolutely epic and it sends shivers up and down my spine at the end. Just an incredible, raw live performance. I assume somebody made a decision that live stuff wasn’t going to be on the deluxe. That means you’re also missing the live medley of “Freedom Train/Always On the Run” from the “Heaven Help” single. Too bad. I think most fans would rather have those than the BBC interview. The interview is good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also 15 minutes long.
I wholeheartedly recommend this deluxe edition of Are You Gonna Go My Way to anybody who wants to check out Lenny Kravitz on the harder side of rock. You will not be disappointed with either the album, or the deluxe. In the meantime, I suggest die-hard collectors find the vinyl too, just for that astounding live version of “Sister”.