Nestled in a giant pool of blood, or possibly red paint, naked apart from a strategically placed guitar and yet more blood/paint – the album cover sees Lenny Kravitz inviting the listener into his Baptism with open arms.
Is Kravitz having his own private epiphany? There’s the title track (“I don’t want to know emptiness, take me down to the water, wanna be baptised in your love”); the religious convert’s self analysis and awareness in Where Are We Runnin’? and What Did I Do With My Life?; but perhaps most blatant is The Other Side (“Father can you tell me again that I’m livin’ / Till I meet you on the other side”). Who can say except Lenny himself? But at least the lyrics on offer here present an insight into the thoughts, emotions and perhaps spirituality of the singer, unlike manufactured pop bands presenting yet another production line ballad.
For this is a bit of a one-man show. Kravitz writes the lyrics. He writes the music. He arranges the strings section. He sings, of course. He plays the music – electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums, Moog and Mellotron. And that’s just on the opening track!
On most tracks he does the basics of guitars, bass and drums, and at times he adds on percussion in the form of timpani, woodblock and hand claps. A few of the tracks benefit from the Kravitz-special electric guitar solo (Sistamamalover and I Don’t Want To Be A Star). Definitely a talented chap. Some may say control freak. But there’s no denying his musical abilities. He even produced this album.
The production is in fact what lets this album down. The mix is all wrong, with the drums far too high and the guitars way too low. Slow ballads like What Did I Do With My Life? and Calling All Angels are ruined by the ponderous but insistent bass drum jarring above the vocals on every bar. It even took a few listens to spot there were piano and strings on Calling All Angels.
Kravitz does better on the upbeat tracks. Opener Minister Of Rock ‘N’ Roll is a rip-roaring rock number with amazing vocal power from Kravitz. I Don’t Want To Be A Star is a great track – but since the chord structure, riffs, lyrics (“I got so much confusion now…”) are borrowed heavily from the classic All Along The Watchtower, that’s hardly surprising. California is a good indie-rock song, while Sistamamalover is very funky and seems almost Prince-like. Is that where Kravitz got the idea for the straightened bouffant locks? Hopefully it’s a short-lived phase.
The latter half of the album flows fairly seamlessly past, alternating slow and upbeat tracks, and it’s fair to say that nothing gets anywhere close to Are You Gonna Go My Way? Storm, featuring Jay-Z seems out of place. And to these ears, Baptism – coming from a man once pictured on Tube adverts for Madame Tussaud’s with the caption, “See our replica Jimi Hendrix” – does not have nearly enough electric guitar.