The reasons for Kravitz’s career longevity are many, but the best way to sum it up is that he’s a killer singer and musician. He’s among the best one-man bands in rock music, adept at drums, bass, guitars, and keys. He believes in every word he sings, passionately conveying his lyrics whether approaching a song from a hushed falsetto or a wild howl. In his brief notes in the deluxe edition booklet, Kravitz had this to say, “Everything about the recording of Are You Gonna Go My Way happened quickly and without much thought. I continued to work instinctually as usual, not paying attention to the trends and the sounds du jour.”
So what’s on the new edition? Disc one contains, of course, the original 11-track album plus seven B-sides. The ass-kicking title track sounds as raw and vital as it ever did. That’s the lasting benefit of avoiding those “sounds du jour”—nothing ever ends up sounding dated. What might have been considered out of step with rock and R&B trends in ’93 still sounds fresh 20 years later. It’s all rooted in what makes great rock music timeless in the first place. The Lennonesque “Just Be a Woman” is another good example, a gentle, acoustic guitar ballad that carries as few frills as the rest of the record. Rock radio hit “Believe” is one of the biggest production numbers, with lush orchestration and phased lead vocals. It’s a soaring, inspirational gem.
If you haven’t heard the B-sides in some time (or maybe not at all), you’re in for some obscure treats. “They say I gotta write some new songs/But I’m all tapped out,” Kravitz wails on the stomping “B-Side Blues.” Besides frequent collaborator Craig Ross adding some extra guitar, it’s another one of Kravitz’s patented one-man shows. The slinky soul groove “Brother” finds Kravitz playing bandleader to a full ensemble. Most of these flip sides equal the album cuts, allowing for seamless listening of the disc’s 18 tracks.
The second disc opens with a trio of acoustic versions of album tracks before delving into the previously unreleased stuff. Ten newly unearthed tracks in all, including a radio interview originally broadcast on the BBC back in ’93. Six cuts fall under “Work in Progress: Demos & Outtakes” and three are billed as “The Vanessa Paradis Demos.” The latter are Kravitz’s own demo versions of songs he wrote and produced for Vanessa Paradis on her 1992 self-titled album. The interview is pretty interesting, with Mick Wilkojc discussing the enthusiastic embrace Kravitz received in the U.K.
A number of the previously unheard bonus cuts are instrumentals; “Feeling Alright” cuts a punishing groove, “Blood/Papa (A Long and Sad Goodbye) takes its time, building over 11 minutes. “Getting Out (Will You Marry Me)” begins with an exasperating Kravitz saying, “Oh Lord, have mercy on this song ” before launching into a stuttering, James Brown-styled funk track peppered with horns.
Just like the previous two deluxe anniversary editions, this one’s a feast for Lenny Kravitz fans. Can’t wait to hear what emerges on a reissue of Circus.