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Lenny Kravitz!! - Turning TRIBUTE into TRUTH

Welcome to WEEK 253 of MUSIC is not a GENRE (Video #79 & S4Ep17)

Lenny Kravitz – Turning TRIBUTE into TRUTH

Tribute music has been around since forever. As soon as a style is old enough to be considered retro, someone cops it. If you’ve been following along with this here podcast, you know that I did an episode on this. I made a distinction between music that is a mere echo of the past – cashing in on nostalgia, and music that adopts & adapts elements of the past in a modern context – to shine a light & breathe new life into music that deserves to live on even more.

It’s not always easy knowing which is which. Some bands & producers start out with a fresh take on an old sound, and end up getting caught in the retro swirl. Eventually their production becomes a caricature of itself. Others dive headlong into a retro sound, and over the years develop it into something so unique that it sets off a whole new trend or genre. Pharrell. Elephant 6. Bruno Mars. Dua Lipa. Laura Mvula. Greta Van Fleet. Some of those for me fall into the first category, and some the second. Those categorizations may be the complete opposite for you. There’s a fine line between creative repurposing and lazy pandering to people’s misty-eyed version of what once was, and which one is which is in the ear of the beholder.

A perfect example is this week’s artist, Lenny Kravitz. From the get-go, he was clearly mining the 1960s & 1970s. Also from the get-go, critics were divided about which side of the retro line he fell on. Some thought his meshing of old styles with modern soul and funk put a fresh spin on tired sounds. Others thought he relied too heavily on his influences. It’s a debate that’s stuck with him through every album.

When I first heard him, it was like several of my musical worlds had converged. Prince mixed with the Beatles mixed with hard rock. At a time when Prince was diverging from his more psychedelic and hard rocking elements, and hard rock itself was at a post-hair-metal/pre-grunge crossroads, Lenny was exactly who I needed. He transcended genre, race & time, bridged gaps, and brought worlds together. He took his influences - his tributes - and turned them into his truth. Other than adding some electronica and 1980s sounds, he’s pretty much stayed the same. Which again, depending on your own tastes, can be so-so or so great.

That initial influential blast of Kravitz amalgamation has stuck with me. I love combining funky rhythms with power pop and a touch of psychedelia. You can hear that in a huge way on one of my most recent songs:

REC - “No Way Out for Me” (from the album Symphony for the Weird)

What do you think of Lenny’s use of retro elements? Too much of a retread or an effective recontextualizing? Are there other artists whose tributes to older styles elicit and strong response in you - pro or con? Discuss dammit!


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