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Pop - Released January 1, 2014 | Virgin Catalog (V81)

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Rock - Released January 1, 1989 | Virgin Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
The title is a tip-off: Lenny Kravitz is a hippie, something that was commonplace 20 years before his debut, Let Love Rule, and was familiar five years later when he scaled the charts with Are You Gonna Go My Way, but was practically unheard of in 1989 when the Grateful Dead were reaping the benefits of hippies turning into establishment. Kravitz had yet to become a classic rock caricature and he could still surprise on this unformed, endearingly unwieldy first record, where he split the difference between John Lennon, Curtis Mayfield, David Bowie, and Prince, sometimes exhibiting too clear of a debt to his idols but more often getting by on a combination of chutzpah and pastiche, something that winds up as an enormously appealing guilty pleasure. Kravitz has a tendency to overreach lyrically, striving to speak deep truths about big themes from world peace to child abuse, but the winning thing about Let Love Rule is how it plays as sheer sound, evoking memories of the paisley-drenched '60s and the lush sounds of '70s soul, all filtered through the multicultural flowering of the late '80s. Remarkably for an album that's essentially the work of a one-man band, Let Love Rule never feels stiff or insular -- it feels roomy and open, testament to Kravitz's talents as a producer -- but the record remains one of his best because it also has one of his greatest collections of songs, chief among them the stately, psychedelic march of "I Build This Garden for Us," the hippie-funk of "Sittin' on Top of the World," the Hendrixian riffs of "Freedom Train," the urban groove of "Mr. Cab Driver," and the surging "Let Love Rule," songs that created Kravitz's sound and persona and remain among his most engaging work. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released September 7, 2018 | BMG Rights Management (UK) Limited

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Rock - Released January 1, 2000 | Virgin Records

Lenny Kravitz's greatest gift is that he's a master synthesist, pulling together different sounds and styles from eras past to create a sound that isn't necessarily blazingly original, but fresh due to his craft and sheer mastery of the studio. Since he was an unabashed classicist, his records often suffered the brunt of nasty criticism, but they were often very good, particularly early in his career before he indulged in the mannerisms of guitar-blasting stadium rock. Even if Circus and 5 were sunk by their own bloat, they still had good singles, as did those early albums, so the 2000 collection Greatest Hits is a terrific encapsulation of Kravitz at the peak of his talents. Certainly, there are some fan favorites missing, and the non-chronological sequencing is maddening (two of his three worst singles are within the first three songs), but it does boast the magnificent new single "Again," along with such seminal Kravitz moments as "Are You Gonna Go My Way," "Mr. Cabdriver," "Stand By My Woman," "Always on the Run," "Believe," "Let Love Rule," and "It Ain't Over Til It's Over," which is enough to make this a first-class greatest-hits compilation. After all, it doesn't just have all the main songs, it also illustrates that he indeed is a master synthesist. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 1991 | Virgin Records

Moving forward a couple years from the psychedelic fixations of his debut, Mama Said finds Lenny Kravitz in the early '70s, trying to graft Curtis Mayfield and Jimi Hendrix influences to his Prince and Lennon obsessions. This time around, he synthesizes his influences better; it's essentially a seamless record, with all of its classic rock homages so carefully produced that it sounds as if it could have been released in 1972. Kravitz's songcraft has gotten better as well, with the swirling Philly soul of "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" and the rampaging Sly Stone-meets-Hendrix "Always on the Run" standing out as instantly addictive singles. Still, some of the joy that informed Let Love Rule has worn off, largely because it's more polished and studied than its predecessor. That, however, doesn't prevent Mama Said from being another thoroughly enjoyable guilty pleasure -- its sweet soul and fuzzy hard rock are slyly seductive. Ironically for such an inviting record, Mama Said is Kravitz's divorce album, yet it never quite conveys any true pain or emotion, since he puts sound over substance. Essentially, the lyrics are afterthoughts, but with a record as immaculately produced and sonically pleasurable as Mama Said, it doesn't really matter that it's talking loud and saying nothing, because it sounds good while it's talking. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released May 25, 2018 | BMG Rights Management (UK) Limited

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Rock - Released September 23, 2014 | Roxie Records, Inc.

The very title of Strut makes Lenny Kravitz's intentions for his tenth album plain: he wants to swagger, he wants to get off on his moves. To underscore the whole carnality of it, Kravitz calls the album's opening track "Sex," just the first song in a parade of pleasure, pain, and dirty white boots. Any of the attempted sociopolitical overtures of 2011's Black and White America have been abandoned, jettisoned along with the stylistic excesses that pumped that album to double-LP length. Strut doesn't bother with any of that nonsense. Like so many records from the golden age of the LP, it's just 12 songs and if it weighs in at a slightly hefty 53 minutes, it's because Lenny has a hard time stopping a good groove and Strut consists almost entirely of grooves. He'll slip into a sultry slow jam -- "The Pleasure and the Pain," "I Never Want to Let You Down," and a cover of Smokey Robinson's "Ooo Baby Baby" that's fine but unneeded -- and he'll tip his hat to Bill Withers on "Frankenstein," but he devotes most of the album to disco and glam, dedicating individual tracks to each style ("The Chamber" is pure glitter-ball rock & roll, "I'm a Believer is all foot stomps and handclaps) but usually finding the point at the Venn diagram where it's all big beats, heavy hooks, and dirty sex. Kravitz deploys all his considerable sonic skills on songs that are purposefully trashy and unapologetically fun and the result is pure pleasure. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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5

Rock - Released January 1, 1999 | Virgin Records

Lenny Kravitz must have realized he bottomed out with the turgid Circus, so he decided to shake things up a bit on its follow-up, 5. Like any veteran in the late '90s, he dabbled in electronica, adding a few trip-hop loops and analog synths to his bedrock rock n' soul. It's enough to make 5 sound relatively fresh, at least compared to the retro dead-end of Circus, yet it sounds like Kravitz read about the idea of electronica without actually listening to any music. Anemic synths and stilted drum loops (sampled from Kravitz's playing, not old records) are scattered throughout the record, along with vaguely distorted vocals. It's not enough to make Kravitz sound hip, especially since he still loves endless funk jams and electric sitars, but it does revitalize his sound. At least for a little while. By the end of the album, his songwriting sounds as tired and unmemorable as on Circus. Without hooks, melodies, and style, Kravitz's Sly, Mayfield, Hendrix, Lennon, and Prince pastiches are a bore. 5 has a few passable cuts, yet it falls short of the quirky hero worship and melodic smarts that made his first three records so enjoyable. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released January 1, 2004 | Virgin Records

To some, listening to Lenny Kravitz was always a bit of a guilty pleasure, but rarely has listening to one of his albums induced overwhelming feelings of guilt, as does his seventh album, Baptism. Guilt that you took him for granted, not acknowledging the craft behind his best singles. Guilt that you thought he couldn't be as nondescript as he was on "Fly." Guilt that you thought he couldn't sink lower than Circus. Or maybe it will just be a flush of angry guilt that you've wasted 55 minutes of precious time listening to an album that betrays all faith you've had in Kravitz as a retro-rock revivalist. Since 1993's Are You Gonna Go My Way? he'd been erratic, stumbling on the doggedly rock-oriented Circus and only gathering his full strength on 2001's Lenny, which may have been a good record but failed to sell. Perhaps maintaining a balance of sales, craft, and fame had exhausted Kravitz, but he sounds worn down to the bone throughout Baptism. He may claim that he "can save your soul" on the opener, "Minister of Rock 'n Roll" (which bears unfortunate similarities in tone and theme to Circus' dud opening salvo, "Rock and Roll Is Dead"), but on the rest of the album he sounds anxious to quit the business, wondering whether he would have been better off if he were a simple man and living off the land. These themes are commonplace in rock & roll, but most rockers have better sense than to air their concerns in the first person, whining that "I'm internationally known...I've got millions sold/But after the party, I'm left standing in the cold," which engenders little sympathy since he could, after all, pull a Bobbie Gentry and quit the business and not make any more records. But he doesn't really want to do that since he's too enamored with the spoils of fame and all of its trapping, complaining "I Don't Want to Be a Star" in the same song where he exults "I got high with Jagger/It was really cool." Such shallow sentiments could be excused if the music worked, but it's as thin as his words and stultifying lethargic, to the point that he doesn't bother to disguise how he cops ZZ Top on "Where Are We Runnin'?" or Sly Stone on "Sistamamalover." It's such a drag that it's a real shock when a song pierces through the murk, as it does on the addictive rush of "California" or the fuzzy glam of "Flash" -- these are the songs that remind you that Kravitz can fuse familiar sounds into something that giddily celebrates his love of music. While these are fine individual moments, they wind up being a bit dispiriting since they're surrounded by lazy, exhausted retreads where it sounds as if the act of making music is a chore to Kravitz -- something that he nearly admits in his lyrics. It's a shame and embarrassment, and hopefully it will be a temporary slump like Circus -- unless he really does want to quit this business called show, since it would be better for him to stop making records than to crank out depressing sludge like this. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released September 7, 2018 | BMG Rights Management (UK) Limited

His look hasn’t changed. The same goes for his cocktail of vintage rock mixed with soul and funk. And yet, Lenny Kravitz makes a clean sweep with each new project. This eleventh − self-produced − album confirms his talents as a songwriter as well as sound producer. As usual, the New York artist calls upon his elders’ legacy (Marvin Gaye, Prince, Curtis Mayfield, John Lennon, Bill Withers) to make it his own and create pure and unadulterated Kravitz sounds. Whether they are intimate and very introspective, or openly engaged to underline the planet’s woes, the songs on this 2018 vintage effortlessly zigzag between funky uppercuts, stadium anthems and dance-floor soundtracks. And on the single Low, Lenny even grants himself a marquee (virtual) guest star with an iconic cry: Michael Jackson! Unsurprising, but effective as always! © Clotilde Maréchal/Qobuz
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Rock - Released January 1, 2012 | Virgin Records

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Rock - Released July 25, 2018 | BMG Rights Management (UK) Limited

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Rock - Released May 11, 2018 | BMG Rights Management (UK) Limited

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Rock - Released January 1, 2001 | Virgin Records

Sure, 5 gave Lenny Kravitz a career revival, thanks to a really big hit with the didactic, clumsy "Fly," and he followed it with a hit that was equally inexplicable -- a lumbering, dunderheaded cover of the Guess Who's "American Woman," which surely benefited from its presence on the blockbuster Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and Heather Graham's accompanying, chest-grabbing video -- and equally distasteful. Combined with the lackluster Circus, it was easy to assume that Kravitz had plateaued, deciding to recycle lame sub-Hendrix stadium rock instead of crafting the kind of lush, post-psychedelic soul that made his first three records so fine. Then, out of nowhere, he threw out the lovely "Again" as a new track for Greatest Hits, setting the stage for the return to form that's Lenny. This, not the empty hard rock of Circus and 5, finds Lenny Kravitz at the peak of his powers, crafting classic rock homages that get by not only on their melodic force but in sterling studiocraft that may shamelessly worship classic rock, but gets the sound and texture right. Kravitz has gotten to the point that his blend of album rock, smooth soul, hippie love, and hipster pop is now his own musical signature -- yes, it's still possible to play "spot the influence," but it's all blended better and presented with an offhand grace, particularly in how the gorgeous, enveloping ballads and mid-tempo pop is punctuated by the rockers that sound much fiercer in this context. There may not be singles that are as immediately grabbing as "It Ain't Over Til It's Over," "Let Love Rule," and "Are You Gonna Go My Way," but there are no dull spots, either, and this easily stands alongside his first three albums as a set of classy, near-irresistible pop for listeners weaned on classic and college rock, which is a wholly welcome surprise. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released August 19, 2011 | Atlantic Records - Roadrunner Records

Lenny Kravitz has walked the musical line between Black and White America ever since 1989, when he cannily crafted his persona through strands of Prince, Curtis Mayfield, David Bowie, John Lennon, and Jimi Hendrix. Kravitz has never been shy about his colorblindness but the very title of Black and White America suggests that he may finally be getting political, something he’s avoided outside of the occasional free love platitude. Naturally, this isn’t quite the case. Certainly, there are hints of politics flowing throughout the album, but Kravitz is never about detail -- he’s about big bright broad strokes, a skill that’s on prime display here. Unlike the monochrome It Is Time for a Love Revolution, Black and White America pulsates with color and texture, playing somewhat as a return to his one-man band hippie fantasias. If anything, this is looser than Let Love Rule and Mama Said and more forward-thinking too, the Mayfield-isms offset by heavy synthesizers and dance beats, the overall package bearing a modernist snap to its retro revivalism. Even with that stylized flair and cameos from Jay-Z and Drake, Black and White America never quite feels like it belongs to 2011; it seems as fuzzy and analog as its cover photo of a young Kravitz, which is of course a large part of its appeal. Kravitz’s greatest gift is how he evokes different eras through his sonic synthesis, and he’s let that gift slide slightly as he’s emphasized guitars over the studio. Here, he reverses that dynamic, playing the studio like the virtuoso that he is, and he’s come up with his best record in years, a shamelessly enjoyable piece of aural candy. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released January 1, 2008 | Virgin Records

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Rock - Released June 24, 2014 | Roxie Records, Inc.

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Rock - Released January 1, 1993 | Virgin Records

The cover indicates that Are You Gonna Go My Way is Lenny Kravitz's bid for rock stardom. Designed in the style of an early-'70s record, it features Kravitz in hippie clothing, apparently exposing himself to a photographer -- in other words, he's a dangerously sexy counterculture rebel. That may have been true in 1970, but in 1993, he simply sounds like a weird sideshow exhibit, the man who never lived past 1973. Of course, it's easy to make such potshots, but Kravitz opens himself up to such attacks. No other artist, especially a successful one, has been quite so devoted to the past and ignorant of the present. Since he has considerable talent for songcraft and production, Kravitz isn't nearly as bad as he could be, and Are You Gonna Go My Way is just as enjoyable and more accomplished than its predecessors. This time around, Hendrix is his chief influence, as evidenced by the roaring title track, and he does expand that with his traditional Lennon, Curtis Mayfield, and Prince obsessions. Song for song, it's his most consistent album, although by the end of the record, his painstaking reproduction of classic rock sounds begins to appear a bit too studied, suggesting that Kravitz may have hit a creative wall. Nevertheless, that does nothing to diminish the enjoyment of this record. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Dance - Released August 10, 2018 | BMG Rights Management (UK) Limited

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