Album reviews: Lenny Kravitz & Red Hot Chili Peppers

Lenny Kravitz releases Black & White America while Red Chili Peppers come back with I'm With You.

Lenny Kravitz occupies a unique space in the music sphere, incorporating his duality – white Jewish father & African American mother – in his music at will. Comfortable with everything from rock, funk to soul, he has created a distinct sound that transcends genres. With Black & White America, his 9th album in a career that has spanned over 20 years, he continues to embrace the challenges of his background with music that cannot be pigeon-holed into ‘white’ or ‘black’ music. In a way, the world seems to be catching up with his approach which has always been about music he enjoys creating instead of genre.

 The title and opening track touches on the dangers his parents faced in 60s America as an inter-racial couple as well as how the spirit of the dream that Martin Luther King had is present in Obama’s America. There is a positivity and hopefulness that lays the foundation for the album as a whole with Stand and the melodic Dream leading the way. Musically, the album doesn’t stray too far from classic Kravitz sound with a strong rock foundation, great composition and live instrumentation, and a funkiness that draws from 70s style Parliament and Sly Stone sensibilities.

This is especially evident on tracks like Liquid Jesus and Life Ain’t Never Been Better Than It Is Now. He also draws hip hop into the mix, featuring Jay-Z and DJ Military on Boongie Drop and Drake on the awesome Sunflower, which is, for me, the best track on the album.

Meanwhile, legendary rock group Red Hot Chili Peppers have released their 10th album following a prolonged hiatus after extensive tour of their 2006 album Stadium Arcadium. Formed in 1983, the core of the band are founding members Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea who were joined by drummer Chad Smith in 1988. For their new album, guitarist Josh Klinghoffer became a part of the band in 2010, after John Frusciante left for the second time.

I’m With You sees a rejuvenated and re-inspired Kiedis and Flea drive the songwriting process but with contribution from the other members, including the newbie. While Kiedis has always been responsible for his lyrics and, therefore, they often reflect his personal journey, the growth that they have all undergone comes through strongly, particularly for himself and Flea. Flea also plays trumpet, piano and keyboard and served as the musical foundation for the band, having recently studied musical theory during their time off.

Overall, this reinvigorated return to the music has birthed an album that retains a strong RHCP sound while also sounding contemporary and fresh. Smith’s drumming on Monarchy of Roses and Did I Let You Know channels the tracks forward almost military-like while the acoustic guitar-driven Brendan’s Death Song and Even You Brutus? are perfect vehicles for Kiedis’ clean voice and dance between singing and ‘rapping’. Klinghoffer’s guitar is never overpowering, fitting in perfectly, often teasing and threatening.

Black & White America and I’m With You are wonderful additions to any music collection.