LENNY KRAVITZ – Greatest Hits (2000 Virgin)
Although I love and will always stand by 1993’s Are You Gonna Go My Way, I don’t need every Lenny Kravitz album. He lost a few people on 1995’s Circus. He had a bit of a comeback in 1998 with 5, and continued to soar in 1999 with a reissue including “American Woman”. Lenny never quite reinvigorated my enthusiasm enough to buy it, so 2000’s Greatest Hits touched all the bases. You could almost predict he’d do a hit compilation in 2000. It was just time to strike while the iron was really hot. It’s been re-released and updated since, but today we’re looking at the original North American tracklist.
Smartly opening with the riffin’ “Are You Gonna Go My Way”, the compilation goes for gold again on the second track, the #1 smash “Fly Away”…which I never liked very much. The basic riff and the clanky beat don’t do it for me, and the chorus is a trip to snoozetown. But what the hell do I know, it went #1 in Iceland for crissakes!
“Rock and Roll is Dead” was the heavily anticipated but underwhelming first single from the Circus album. It’s not bad, but compared to other first singles of Lenny’s like “Are You Gonna Go My Way”, it sits in a very large shadow. It didn’t get people into the stores buying Circus by the droves. Some great riffing is happening here though.
The excellent ballad “Again” was 4th in the tracklist, and was actually a brand new single released on Greatest Hits. Not a throwaway by any means, it’s superior to a lot of the actual hits. Big dramatic verses lead into an acoustic, laid back chorus. Is it ever cool. The single went to #1 in the US, Italy, and…you guessed it…Iceland.
One of Lenny’s finest concoctions has to be the 60s throwback “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”. The unforgettable string quartet is the main hook of this now-classic soul song. The snappy drums (by Lenny!) are period-perfect! Is it 1969? Can’t tell with all this sitar! Flawless tune, from writing to arrangement to playing to final mix. Probably one of Lenny’s best vocals too; his falsetto is underappreciated.
The ballad “Can’t Get You Off My Mind” has the slightest twang of country. It’s also a reminder that Circus did have some keepers. From there the compilation lays down a series of hits, and all great but for one speedbump. They are: “Mr. Cab Driver” (still indi-cool). “American Woman” (blech). “Stand By My Woman” (so beautiful). “Always On the Run”, with Slash on lead guitar; what more can you say? Funky and hard as fuck all at once. This mini-set of mega hits is rounded out by “Heaven Help”, another soulful ballad like Lenny does so well.
“I Belong to You” is shit. Talk about a joykiller after so many great tunes in a row. This is the kind of dreck I hated about the 5 album: Lenny trying to be modern. The chorus is great…if only you could lift it out of the song and ditch the rest of it. Goddamn that toy piano is fucking annoying.
Fortunately, my favourite Kravitz tune of all time arrives in time to rescue my ears: It is the beautiful, psychedelic ballad “Believe”. From the watery mix to the brilliant feature guitar melody, this song cannot be beat. So what do you follow it with? Why not Lenny’s first single “Let Love Rule”? It brought Kravitz to the world’s attention so the prestigious penultimate slot is suiting. It’s the closer that’s the surprise, in two ways.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Oh boy, I bet Mike is just going to lay into that ‘Black Velveteen’ song!” Yes, the strangely techno-sounding “Black Velveteen” closes Lenny Kravitz’ Greatest Hits, an odd choice to be sure. But I actually like this song. It’s less impressive amongst all these hits, but on the 5 album, it was one of the few that jumped out. That techno beat isn’t much different from a ZZ Top hit from the late 80s, is it? Listen and think about it, especially when the guitars join the fray.
Apparently the folks at Virgin records selected the songs based on their chart performance. A stiff if successful way to do things. For a better listening experience, you could have dropped “I Belong To You” and sub in “Is There Any Love In Your Heart”. In fact, that’s exactly what they did in Japan! Japanese releases are always better.