Lenny Kravitz, Blue Electric Light review: Any sense of individuality is concealed by generalities, platitudes – and cowbells

Lenny Kravitz releases his 12th studio album ‘Blue Electric Light’ on 24 May  (Mark Seliger)
Lenny Kravitz releases his 12th studio album ‘Blue Electric Light’ on 24 May (Mark Seliger)

“Just let me taste you, baby/ Can I eat your mind?” growls Lenny Kravitz halfway through his 12th studio album Blue Electric Light. With its lyrics spoken over looped electronica, this ought to be the kind of seduction groove Kravitz can nail with his eyes closed. He’s the man who wrote “Justify My Love” for Madonna after all. But while Madonna’s kinky musings steamed up Nineties tape decks, “Let It Ride” is more likely to remind listeners of the time Ross Geller got out his keyboard on Friends. And unlike Ross, Kravitz didn’t “forget the disk with the helicopter noises”. Here, he chooses to drop a variety of oddball sound effects seemingly at random over his plug’n’play, retro synth line. The only people who will associate these sounds with sex are new parents who’ve tried to get it on while electronic toddler toys burst to life down the hall.

Luckily “Let It Ride” is the only truly wince-inducing moment on an album that sees the 59-year-old deliver a slick set of his leather-trousered jams. We get Eighties-style power-funk-rock on “TK421” (complete with sax solo and calls to “take it to the stratosphere”), fretboard-skidding, bongo-pounding action-rock drama on “Paralyzed”, and sultry sitar spirituality with “Stuck in the Middle”, on which he sings of consciousness before birth. Half-Jewish with a Christian tattoo, Kravitz preaches that “love is my religion” on the rackety-solid glam-stomp of the same name. By this point, he’s such a pro that the track sounds as though it was beamed in from the late 1970s.

Signed in the Eighties by an A&R man who saw him as a cross between Prince and John Lennon, Kravitz is best known for mixing his peace’n’love vibes with polished guitar riffs and disco grooves. He sidled into drive time slots in 1991 with the soulfully grazed crooning of “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over” while his 1993 hit “Are You Gonna Go My Way” mixed a dreadlock-thrasher of a riff with lyrics not every headbanger realised were about Jesus Christ.

Kravitz is a proficient multi-instrumentalist and producer, but it’s often hard to connect with the man behind the oversized sunglasses and open shirts. His reticence remains intact even as he sashays into another decade at the mic. Although a track here, called “Human”, sees Kravitz proclaim that he’s “going to live my truth in this life… I am here to be human”, any sense of individuality is concealed behind generalities, platitudes, and an irritably battered cowbell. Likewise, when he sings of romance, he keeps things sweet but vague. On “Heaven”, he loves a girl because she’s “fine” and “mine” and being with her is “so nice”. On “Honey”, he hymns the smell of his paramour’s hair. It’s safe enough stuff – along with all the “yeahs” and “ohhs”.

I’d hoped that some of the silliness of his part in last year’s comedy film Shotgun Wedding might’ve rubbed off on his music and allowed Kravitz to shake out a little more personality. But unless that was what was happening in his Ross Geller moment, this hasn’t been the case. Still, there’s no denying Kravitz knows how to strut the rock stuff. The album ends with a title track that gurns its way into the kind of electric guitar solo that elicits a spot of sneaky air fretwork from anybody stuck at traffic lights. Solidly amped-up stuff. If not really mind-eating.