Hey kids! Cinna has a pop career!
Megan Harrington: Between the massive quantity of EDM bros willing to stand together in a field and sing along to Eliza Dolittle via Disclosure or the nu-disco bros banging Random House Memories at their barbecues, men are flocking in droves to music they’ve historically rejected. It might be surprising to see straight men embracing queer music from Giorgio Moroder or Sam Smith, but in all this reclamation of dance music, women are still observers or interpreters. What’s most exciting about “The Chamber” is Kravitz’s willingness to mix his musical DNA with Debbie Harry’s. This is a womanly song, not least of all because it borrows from “Heart of Glass” (it also borrows from “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”), but most of all because Kravitz positions himself on the receiving end of the well aimed bullet. He assumes a position of sensitivity, of mortality, and he cloaks this vulnerability not in crunchy alt-rock guitars but silky synthesizers. It’s fluent in throwback jam, but also interpreting influence and emotion in futuristic ways.
Thomas Inskeep: Well, I certainly didn’t expect Lenny Kravitz to be re-writing “Heart of Glass” 25 years into his career — and that was before I even realized he actually says “heart of glass” in the song’s chorus. From the chugga-chugga “Miss You”-on-cocaine rhythm to the atmospheric keybs behind the chorus, this is some serious fucking retro-DOR action. And amazingly, it’s probably his best single since the ’70s-soul-isms of “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.” For someone who came across as such a hippie manqué at the start of his career, it would appear that it’s the ’70s that have been the greatest musical gift for Kravitz. I guess you can teach an old dog new(ish) tricks.
Brad Shoup: Holy hell, is Lenny turning into early-’80s Elvis Costello? I hadn’t even considered a best-case scenario for him, let alone his achieving it.
Alfred Soto: Geez, it only took twenty-five years for Kravitz to play an interesting bass line on his own. Too bad the harmonies, rhythm strums, and electronics come from the Killers’ debut.
David Sheffieck: Sorely — and surprisingly — in need of a striking guitar solo in the bridge, but otherwise an impressively propulsive and wiry song. The last Kravitz song I liked was “Fly Away”; “The Chamber” makes me wonder if I should check for missing gems in the intervening years.
Scott Mildenhall: The actual content of the lyrics can stay or go — he’s made sense of “one in the chamber”, at least — but the sound of them is enough. “ONEINTHECHAMBER” itself is so satisfying; vocally the chorus more than matches up to the enrapturing pulse and eye-of-the-storm atmosphere. It does sound like thousands of other songs — not all unintentionally if the “heart of glass” line is anything to go by, though he probably wasn’t thinking of Franz Ferdinand — but then those songs are good, too.
Mark Sinker: I correct the spelling in a magazine that covers the decorative and applied arts. Long-running joke: every new feature on glassware someone will propose the headline “Art of Glass,” punning on (wait for it) “Heart of Glass”. This has gone so far beyond mutually amusing cliché no one even much notices we’re doing it any more: it’s a kind of cheerfully phatic background hum of preoccupied co-worker signalling. Via this and many similarly emptied-out songphrases, apparently largely gathered by a spiderbot concordance aggregator, over a pleasant-enough New Wave-y guitar-shimmer-throb, Lenny is trying (and failing) to pass a Turing Test of lovelorn android sentience. Unexpectedly — when the words stops and there’s only mounting instrumental overload — you are indeed put in mind of a tormented cyborg lover overheating somewhere behind its communications screen, vital information unable to pass out or in.
Jonathan Bradley: Lenny Kravitz is an unusual presence in the pop landscape of 2014, but then again, he’s been that for pretty much his entire career. His glossy funk-rock is machined as precisely as any R&B-pop hit du jour, but his multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter background suggests a figure of the classic rock era; he has the toolkit of an auteur and the catalogue of a session player. Yet that catalogue has no shortage of hits, and like Chris Isaak or latter-day Carlos Santana, he’s had a lengthy career of the sort that, since it’s never been a part of the Zeitgeist, could plausibly last forever and be revived at any time; can a performer who’s never been relevant turn irrelevant? Like those men, or like Nickelback or Amy Winehouse or Norah Jones, he seems to thrive by exploiting market failure; plenty of people want to hear music that sounds like those artists, but that sound has calcified to the extent it can only be reproduced with ever diminishing returns by talented newcomers who will never be as exciting as their forebears. “The Chamber” is unlike “Fly Away” or “Again” or “Are You Gonna Go My Way” in that the pop-rock form it takes this time is circa-Blondie disco-rock, and, in true Kravitz fashion, it channels adequately that era’s funk basslines and brisk rhythms. If anything, it’s noteworthy for being more faithfully populist than contemporary indie rock’s ventures into the same realm. Cue it up after that Nathan East thing, and, one thing’s for sure: your playlist will definitely not be technically made up of oldies.
Anthony Easton: Lenny Kravitz is pretty much the perfect example of middle manager, isn’t he? Technically competent, ambitious enough, connects to the right people, knows his history, acts a little — sort of like Adam Levine now or Aerosmith a generation ago, but with some survivor cred, and some decent history of counter-programming. This could have been better with a bit of a Blondie sample in the “Heart of Glass” moment, and without the spoken word bit, but it’s a Kravitz song, and you get what you pay for.