Narcissistic retro-rocker he may be, but Lenny Kravitz has that one nagging and oft annoying quality which so many of his ilk haven’t, something unfortunately called talent. Whether he is a servant of his own ego, or his own no doubt encyclopaedic LP collection I don’t know. Suffice it to say that the man certainly has a sophisticated ability to do his own Lord Elgin and pillage from the relics of rock and roll antiquity, be it Hendrix, Sly, the Beatles, or solo Lennon. And on Kravitz’s second album we get all of these elements, influences and more. But don’t get me wrong. When I was in my late teens, being bombarded by Salt-n-Pepa and Milli Vanilli, not mention whatever other pop dross/hip hop crap you could name, I was open to anything consisting of a little heart and soul, so this stuff seemed like pure gold when it was first doing the rounds amongst my, ahem, ‘musically enlightened’ friends. But listening to Mama Said now, some twenty years later, it’s hard to work out where the heart is and where the soul begins.
“Fields of Joy” starts the album off with some gentle acoustic guitar, followed by Lenny inviting us to “wander slowly through the fields”, like an alternative hippie opening to The Sound of Music, only this time with Julie Andrews on acid, without all those precocious Hollywood brats and Nazis chasing after her. Soon the big crunchy riffs kick in and the humble listener is blessed with hearing none other than Slash (guitarist of Guns ‘n’ Roses fame, just in case you’ve been in a coma these past twenty-five years) rearrange the melodic furniture in a way only Slash can. In all honesty he does tear it up, as he does on the next song, which happens to be the title track, and is as perfect a facsimile of 1970’s hard rock as you’re ever likely hear this side of The Black Crowes. It is also the best track on the album. The main groove is as funky as it is infectious, and I guarantee you’ll be reaching for the repeat button once it’s over.
“Stand by My Woman” sounds like Sly Stone singing John Lennon. The production is very much in the vein of Imagine, and is a heartfelt testimony of Kravitz’s love for his wife (his marital problems at the time were apparently widely known by his fans). Likewise with the next tune “It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over”, which was a big hit and deservedly so, with a smooth as silk bass-line, velvety vocals from the man himself, plenty of strings, and even a little hippie sitar thrown in to complete the ‘70s picture.
On “More Than Anything In This World” Kravitz extemporises about how he wants to “be a man”, and “stand in the rain”. But more importantly he wants his wife to be “his woman”. It’s basically an organ dominated confessional in the vein of John Lennon about his failing marriage. At least Lennon knew how to exorcise his demons with a decent melody.
“What Goes Around Comes Around” is a little better, in that at least it has a groove, although why make the listener feel as though they’re standing in an elevator circa 1973? The only redeeming ingredient is the Coltrane-sax toward the end.
“The Difference Is Why” continues the theme of his disintegrating marriage, whose main riff is so repetitive that it soon becomes too boring to tolerate.
“Stop Dragging Around” is another fun but ultimately forgettable piece of retro fluff, complete with phasing and a backwards guitar solo. Nice party song though.
“Flowers for Zoe” is an endearing tribute to his daughter. “Fields of joy (Reprise)” is utterly pointless. Maybe back in the ‘60s when audiences were more naive and off their heads, psychedelic groups could get away with just about any old hallucinatory nonsense, but not anymore, or at least not with this.
Another paean to his wife follows with “All I Ever Wanted”. Yet another declaration of his emotions via the John Lennon via Phil Spectre production songbook. Unremarkable to say the least.
Things don’t improve much with “The Morning Turns To Night”. A country-rock by numbers track concerned with the danger of doing hard drugs. A serious subject, but here the whole thing is executed in such a casual toss away fashion one wouldn’t even know.
And now we’re almost there, with “What the … Are We Saying”. But at this point I’m wondering why the … I’m reviewing this album. The production is so retro, and Kravitz’s vocal delivery so affected it’s practically nauseating. So by the time “Butterfly” comes on, the final song, I no longer feel like vomiting, being relieved that the whole conceited journey is over. The song itself is pretty, in an acoustic White Album sort of way, and then that’s it. But no, what am I saying, I’m listening to the remastered deluxe edition, which means there’s a whole lot more. Two whole discs worth of bonus material which I no longer have any remaining stomach for.
At the end of the day, what Lenny lacks in originality he more than makes up for in energy and complete commitment to what he does. Stealing and borrowing is a given no matter what the art form, and none more so than rock and roll. And on Mama Said, Kravitz doesn’t so much plagiarise as synthesize all the sounds of his musical idols. At least he doesn’t sample. So the man’s trying to keep things honest, albeit in his own super-confident and pretentious kind of way. While his own creations may lack the artistic depth of those far more inventive deities for whom each of his album’s is an alter, in this age of digital vacuity and wanton superficiality, one could do a hell of a lot worse than this. Regardless of what I’ve said.