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Album: Let Love Rule

The title is a tip-off: Lenny Kravitz is a hippie, something that was commonplace 20 years before his debut, Let Love Rule, and was familiar five years later when he scaled the charts with Are You Gonna Go My Way, but was practically unheard of in 1989 when the Grateful Dead were reaping the benefits of hippies turning into establishment. Kravitz had yet to become a classic rock caricature and he could still surprise on this unformed, endearingly unwieldy first record, where he split the difference between John Lennon, Curtis Mayfield, David Bowie, and Prince, sometimes exhibiting too clear of a debt to his idols but more often getting by on a combination of chutzpah and pastiche, something that winds up as an enormously appealing guilty pleasure. Kravitz has a tendency to overreach lyrically, striving to speak deep truths about big themes from world peace to child abuse, but the winning thing about Let Love Rule is how it plays as sheer sound, evoking memories of the paisley-drenched '60s and the lush sounds of '70s soul, all filtered through the multicultural flowering of the late '80s. Remarkably for an album that's essentially the work of a one-man band, Let Love Rule never feels stiff or insular — it feels roomy and open, testament to Kravitz's talents as a producer — but the record remains one of his best because it also has one of his greatest collections of songs, chief among them the stately, psychedelic march of "I Build This Garden for Us," the hippie-funk of "Sittin' on Top of the World," the Hendrixian riffs of "Freedom Train," the urban groove of "Mr. Cab Driver," and the surging "Let Love Rule," songs that created Kravitz's sound and persona and remain among his most engaging work. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.