Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On Lindsey & Lenny

I've been listening to the new Lindsey Buckingham, "Seeds We Sow" and really loving it. My first thought about 6 songs in was, "No one makes records like this anymore." But after that thought, I realized that wasn't necessarily true. I guess there are still many artists who stick with what they know and just do it themselves, without paying any mind to changing or trying to stay current. "Seeds We Sow" could have easily been recorded during the fMac "Tusk" sessions of 1979 or the "Go Insane" sessions of the 80s. What I really meant by "No one makes records like this anymore" was "I love this record more than I like so many others."

Then, I thought of a discussion I had with a friend about Lenny Kravitz. I'm not a Lenny hater. I enjoy his records. But my friend is an ardent fan, and didn't take kindly to my comment that I think Lenny makes decent records but is a terrible songwriter. What he hated more was when I said, "He keeps making the same record."

He came back with, "You can say that about every artist, so why do critics hate Lenny but not say, the Red Hot Chili Peppers?"

He could have said anyone, I think. I just said it (kind of) about Lindsey Buckingham. I then sent him this, part of a review of the new Lenny Kravitz in the new Mojo:

"Perhaps Lenny might be more lovable if he didn't sound so damn smug whe imbuing his Curtis Mayfield-pastiches with cracker barrel sapience. No one expects a fabulously wealthy, devilishly handsome, 35-million-album-selling artist to have the blues exactly, but the vainglorious self-righteousness displayed, can be hard for mere mortals to swallow."

My friend thought Mojo got personal. Maybe he's right.

Lenny Kravitz and Lindsey Buckingham have both been around the block. Neither has strayed far from their sound from album to album. And I don't think Lindsey's so much deeper lyrically than Lenny. And wasn't Lenny Kravitz' debut "Let Love Rule" a five-star record upon its release in 1987? It's not as if L.K. followed it with a twee folk record? So what makes the occasionally arrogant and aloof Lindsey Buckingham a critic's darling and the occasionally arrogant and aloof Lenny Kravitz a critic's punching bag? It can't just be retro-rock & soul versus L.A. pop rock?

Why does "Seeds We Sow" sound so amazing to me and "Black & White America" bore me to tears? Both are records by artists doing what they do best, sticking with formulas that made them huge stars.

Why is no one saying "Seeds We Sow" sounds like the last 4 Lindsey Buckingham records?

My friend may have a point.


Gina said...

I think that the difference between them is that while Lindsey may "occasionally" be arrogant and aloof, with Lenny, the word you're looking for is actually "unceasingly."

Anything Should Happen said...

Snap, I too am loving the new LB album, an absolute corker.

I think Mojo had it right about Kravitz and I don't often find myself nodding with them.

The difference between the two may be melody, Lindsey Buckingham songs are chipper and chirpy in a way that makes you want to like them.

There can be an argument with my beloved Power Pop that not much is different, I suppose it depends on how you define Power Pop particularly with arguments over Singer Songwriters.

Lenny Kravitz is not a bad artist, he's also not a great one. His albums are well made but never grab you.

I certainly think your argument about him not being a great songwriter is apt and you always feel there could be something more.

I can honestly say that I don't know any Lenny Kravitz fanatics, but then again I don't know anyone who is anti LK.

Buckingham wise, I don't particularly year for a new album, but I enjoy them when they come along.wwoofner

FD13NYC said...

I've listened to the new LB. To me it sounds like he's phoning it in again. Nothing on it grabs you and makes you say oh, that's a good one. IMHO, he hasn't put out anything worthwhile since Out Of The Cradle.

As for LK, he's so derivative and generic it's almost comical. But I love when he funks out though.

Jeff Matthews said...

Could it be as simple as generational disdain? LB, to fans/critics around our ages, has more credibility to burn because of his early 70's origin (when we were teens). Whereas LK, about 15 years younger, gets cut far less slack as more of a johnny come lately. I think Steve Miller and Bob Seger get enormous leeway in this regard as well. I personally lump the RHCP's in with LK by the way. Don't hate em, just never a big fan.

Noam Sane said...

I see Kravitz as the African-American Johnny Cougar; all influence, nobody really home.

LB has always struck me as kinda bland on his own. Works better in a group. That said, he's a studio genius. I'd have to hear the new record, haven't seen it around yet.

Big Jim Slade said...

Don't have any of the solo LB, so no comment there. But for Lenny, I recall seeing him in Tower Records on Sunset. I overheard a conversation a few feet away from me and looked over and saw this properly funky-dressed dude. I said to myself, sonofabith, that's Lenny Kravitz. He was shopping, and talking about some record with another customer - it was cool.

Also, I first heard one of his songs completely stoned out of my gourd. Let Love Rule came on mtv while I was visiting somebody's room during college. Remember,this was the late 80s, with hair metal and all. It sounded so unbelievably refreshing to hear something with some soul. I didn't hear anything again until we were in the lobby of a hotel in Reno - and mtv was playing Mr. Cab Driver, again, stoned beyond my gourd (must've been a fun semester). Again, the soul, but with a funky lo-fi sound. Each time I had to turn my head and say who the hell is that?

I'm not a huge fan now, but for those 2 memories, Lenny's good with me.

Anything Should Happen said...

I'd certainly disagree with the phoning it in bit, it's much better than that, there's a charm there that isn't always apparent.

The rockier numbers don't quite work, but it's dandy.

Lot of sense there with Bob Seger and Steve Miller getting away with murder, they do.

Buckingham is always gonna irritate some people and I can understand why people don't fall for his stuff, then again at least he's produced something listenable compared to Stevie Nicks last effort which was truly dire.

Poor old Lenny suffers because he thinks he's far better than he is, he's not awful, just not as fantastic as he keeps telling everyone.

Sal Nunziato said...

"Poor old Lenny suffers because he thinks he's far better than he is, he's not awful, just not as fantastic as he keeps telling everyone."


A walk in the woods said...

I'm looking forward to hearing the new Lindsey, b/c his recent album "Under The Skin" has actually creeped, possibly, into my TOP 20 ALBUMS EVER list. It's a real touchstone for me.

And live, he's just incredible, at the top of his game. Don't miss him if he comes to your town.

Eric said...

"vainglorious self-righteousness displayed, can be hard for mere mortals to swallow."

that is helluva quote---can be applied to half of the mortals on planet earth...

aside from readers of this here wood...

Anonymous said...

Maybe we are talking apples and oranges here but not being a fan of either L.B. or L.K.if you compare many of the other artists and releases that you have touted over the past months(Cooder, Hiatt,Lowe ,Campbell,Elvis C.) is there really a comparison? i think that the L. boys are really not in the same league as far as songwriting is concerned!!When it comes to eclectic and taking chances is there really anyone in the same tier as Ry Cooder or Elvis Costello! Now those guys are in a class by themselves Sorry if it sounds arrogant but Buckingham and Kravitz just don't even come close!!!!

shausler said...

its a perplexing question with no real answer on my end. Lenny had that song "Heaven Help" on "are you gonna go my way" it was the one that keeps me coming back hoping for another one like that, but i have not heard it yet. (current album excluded till i hear it today) hope springs like a geyser for me.
Lindsey however, what i liked about him on those quirky tusk songs like "its not that funny" i know i would hear on the new disk and he seldom lets me down. reliable rock lets call it. i love this new disc as i knew i would.

Dave said...

I think the notion that an artist has to "change" with every release is just silly. Did Dickens "change" with every new novel? No. It was quite sufficient to create gripping stories and interesting characters. There are singer-songwriters I admire tremendously, such as Lindsey Buckingham, Brian Wilson, James Taylor, and Jonathan Richman, who seem to exist outside of whatever is going on around them (even if the first three have experienced tremendous commercial success at times). On the surface, LB and BW have "changed" the most from their musical beginnings, but that doesn't mitigate that the world-view of JR and JT have altered more since their first release than LB's or BW's (these kind of incremental changes from artists can be just as fulfilling as radical departures).

If all the songs sound alike, then of course there is a problem. Ultimately, I think it's better to release one epic song than to have a large catalog of mediocrity. I think I have listened to the entire "official" catalog of the Capitols, and no, they never released anything else remotely as great as "Cool Jerk," but I can't ever remember a single song or performance of LK's that moved me.

I went to Amazon to buy the new LB and the Glen Campbell CD's, and when I went to the "Seeds We Sow" page, the Glen Campbell was the only CD listed as "Frequently Bought Together." I wouldn't have thought that they shared the same audience.

Fielding Melish said...

i think maybe because Lenny is a "commercial" hip/now/where's it at kind of guy and Lindsey is more old school "making records for himself" kind of thing, something like that. i think the expectations are different. Lenny is out there in the public and Lindsey has less at stake.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you (and I) care that Lindsey keeps making the same album over and over while you (and I and almost everyone else) slags on Lenny for doing the same thing? Because it's okay if the album you keep making and making is a good one, and less so if not...

Bruce H

Robin said...

Exactly what Noam Sane said! I do enjoy them both though Lindsay more as I think he has more original spark or whatever.

misospecial said...

great discussion! i noticed back in the early '90s that the Band, who mined a certain strain of traditional americana with a rock 'n' roll spin, were critics' darlings, while the dead (at the time just emerging from their stoner ghetto and being acknowledged by a much broader demographic than their traditional audience), who had a central-california spin on the same material, were sneered at, low-rent. i'm not talking about elements of personal style or culture, just the music itself. and while i have never been able to abide those long, noodly jams, i think the dead were a lot better musically than i gave them credit for.

can't weigh in on the specifics of the LB/LK issue, since i never bothered to listen to LK in the first place and have loved LB since "out of the cradle." to me it's about that very distinctive sound, what he does with the guitar, and some kind of emotional intensity he manages to drag into the mix. the lyrics aren't much, but they aren't distractingly bad or stupid. and so often LB records make me happy.

and in the end, there is affinity and revulsion (or even powerful apathy) that we can dissect with rigorous criteria, but what's really going on is we just don't like what we don't like, because we don't like it. and what we don't like all sounds the same—which is i feel about merengue, and how a lot of my friends feel about... salsa (as in palmieri, not nachos).