- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2004

Lenny Kravitz

Baptism

Virgin Records

Relax, Lenny, relax. Funk rocker Lenny Kravitz can’t stop apologizing for living the good life on his new disc, “Baptism.” Mr. Kravitz repeatedly denounces the trappings of fame on this release, his seventh, or wonders whether having a family is better than being in a rock band.

Note to Lenny: No one ever used his midlife crisis for carpooling or taking the family dog to the veterinarian.

We won’t resent you for living the rock-star life if you forgive us for embracing “American Idol.”

“I Don’t Want to Be a Star” is the first woe-is-me anthem. He may have gotten high with Jagger and Dylan, he sings, but the superstar life leaves him cold. A better songwriter could tap into those frustrations without leaving his or her audience behind. Mr. Kravitz never comes close to pulling off that feat.

Mr. Kravitz has never been a wordsmith of the first order. Here, he’s stuck between confessional mode and spilling rock bromides with only his gloriously flexible voice for cover.

Mr. Kravitz finds rock salvation in his ballads, not his supercharged anthems. “Calling All Angels,” “The Other Side,” “What Did I Do With My Life” and the title track all soar, reflecting his knack for layered instrumentation that doesn’t clutter his melodies.

Mr. Kravitz’s songwriting chops may not be maturing, but he is expanding his musical range far beyond what his detractors could predict.

“Angels” glides on a bed of subtle string arrangements, while “Side” finds him lowering his register to a smoky, impassioned effect.

Just playing rock god, though, seems a stretch for Mr. Kravitz on “Baptism.”

“Minister of Rock ‘n’ Roll” sounds like what a squirrelly record executive would order Mr. Kravitz to record. As obvious as a comb-over, it’s a prefab appeal to his core audience. Far better is “Lady” with its insistent piano accompaniment as well as the album’s buoyant first single, “Where Are We Runnin’?”

“Storm,” featuring guest rapper Jay-Z, feels like an incomplete thought searching for completion and, moreover, a wasted opportunity to mix rap with funk rock.

The cover art for “Baptism” features a naked Mr. Kravitz floating in what could be blood, red paint or gallons of tomato juice.

It’s the kind of grandiose snapshot a rock star can attempt without looking foolish — and Mr. Kravitz should know there’s nothing wrong with that.

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