‘Raise Vibration’ offers fresh message, old sound

Photo courtesy of Roxie Records

Lenny Kravitz’s new album, released September 7, 2018, marks his long-awaited 11th studio album release. “Raise Vibration” is a high-spirited mobilization that marks somewhat of a new direction for Kravitz, departing from the sultry, sexy funk of its predecessor, “Strut.”

Even the song titles themselves suggest a different atmosphere, with previous titles drawing from images of flamboyance and a tough “stick it out” attitude now being replaced with an optimistic, global change-oriented attitude and social commentary, as evident in titles like “Who Really Are the Monsters?”, “Here to Love” and “We Can Get It All Together.”

This album is not likely to engage Kravitz’s casual fans as much as his older music from the “Are You Gonna Go My Way” and “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over” era. For those who respect him as a musician and for his unique personal style — there are few others out there who can pull off vests, high heeled boots and mesh tops — this album will not impress more than Kravitz’s other recent music.

That being said, fans will appreciate the crowd-gathering, unifying optimism that shines through in “Raise Vibration.” The song under the same namesake is, without a doubt, the best offering on the album. It really brings to light the call to action on which Kravitz bases all of his new music.

The melody is quite mellow with a nice, smooth guitar playing in the background, however the coolest part of the song is definitely the final minute or so. Kravitz and the guitar fade away into a distant drum beat accompanied with the chanting and singing of what sounds like a group of men.

“Raise Vibration” evokes Carlos Saura’s 1983 film “Carmen” in that the harmonious folk-style singing featured in “Raise Vibration” creates an interesting juxtaposition to the cinematic rendition of the women singing and working in a tobacco factory in Seville, Spain.

The easygoing folk sound inserted into the song proves to be similar to the Andalusian folk music being sung during the film in the scene appropriately titled, “La Tabacalera.” The reason this film seems especially relevant is that this Andalusian folk-style singing brings unity among the women of the tobacco factory, even when internal disputes arise, which could be said to be the very purpose of folk music and definitely clarifies Kravitz’ inclusion of a similar style to unite his listeners.

Interestingly, Kravitz even mentions working in a factory at the very beginning of “5 More Days ‘Til Summer.” This reference is probably a coincidence, but it does nicely lend itself to the universal love theme that seems to dominate this album.

“Here to Love” and “Who Really Are the Monsters?” follow a similar theme of wanting to paint a picture of a better, more unified world. The slower ballads draw in the message of love, evoking unity in a more emotional and personal sense, painted on the canvas of smooth guitar sequences and soothing mellow vocals.

While maybe a bit cliche, listeners cannot help but respect the message, especially with songs like “It’s Enough” that bring to light important racial issues and injustice. Spoken like a true social commentary, Kravitz infuses powerful messages like “Pushing all your drugs just to keep us high, while the media propagates the lie,” with high-powered rhythms and jazz elements in a very 1960s counterculture-esque way.

Overall, a very sonically agreeable album with strong messages, yet the listener almost gets the impression that had Kravitz been a bit more rebellious in his musical style it could be an even better addition to his catalogue. When placed beside his perfect mélange of themes of distrust of the “system,” displays of important current issues and optimism for love and peace, Kravitz’s style feels a little plain and becomes the weakest aspect of the album.

The music itself is very fluid and smooth, reflective of his attitude that the world can change for the better, but the album could be much stronger if Kravitz had dipped into the territory of harder rock or at least graced listeners’ ears with some more audio clips of cool drum beats and folksy singing. The album is not musically bad, but feels less sonically striking than some of Kravitz’s earlier releases.

Still, the album communicates its themes with beauty and clarity, and the listener gets the impression that that is largely what Kravitz wants it to do.