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Sep 14

LENNY KRAVITZ – “Fly Away”

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#816, 20th February 1999

kravitz To get it out of the way: a dodo, a rhea, an emu, a penguin. “Fly Away” has the same chance of getting off the ground as any of them – a stolid, earthbound tramp of a song, anchored by a riff and a groove that does too much to be actually heavy but never enough to soar. Perhaps that’s the point – flight as an impossible aspiration. If so, Lenny makes it too hard and too long. Its basic rhymes poke weakly at me – wish I could FLY so very HIGH like a dragonFLY – but Kravitz gives them a throaty push to let me know he’s shooting for passionate, meaningful even. After a bit it strikes me – this circular trudge is a shoegaze record with the effects turned off, a #nofilters snapshot of a Ride song. And who needs that?

When I first bumped into Lenny Kravitz, the comparison was to Hendrix. This was unfair to both Kravitz – whatever his clear attraction to 60s rock, you could hardly accuse him of limiting himself to one inspiration – and, rather more obviously on this showing, Hendrix. So out of all the possible influences that you could name, why Jimi? I guess the world’s media showed the same sparkling imagination when faced with a black rock dude as directors of airline ads displayed when this song came their way.

With a little distance, “Fly Away” seems more like an early incarnation of the staunchly revivalist rock strain we’ll meet a couple of times in the 00s – though less aggressively self-important than tracks by the Stereophonics or Jet, less intriguingly hermetic than something like the White Stripes, less interesting than almost anything, come to think of it. Kravitz had, in fairness, more range than this single suggested. But if you wanted something whose plain aim was to sound like rock music was meant to sound and not much more, “Fly Away” was your jam. The hook is sturdy, the beat chugs economically, you can jab the air to it and still keep a hand on the wheel. To the stars! Or maybe Mars! Or then again, maybe not.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    Weej on 26 Sep 2014 #

    Haven’t we done Primal Scream in a recent thread? Anyway, I love XTRMNTR / Evil Heat, but I can easily understand why people don’t like Bobby Gilespie – he’s not so much a phoney as someone who constantly over-reaches due to (presumably) a lack of self-awareness. He genuinely doesn’t seem to realise when he has just spent half a decade creating what turns out to be a whole load of unoriginal nothing, but occasionally he seems to just get it completely right. Is Lenny Kravitz guilty of the same? Not really – he’s a talented pastichist who occasionally strikes gold (AYGGMW and IAOTIO for example), but for the most part he’s made solid radio-friendly rock which happens to be sort of limp and dull and, well, it’s a living, I suppose. They do both play the rock star a bit too much, especially now that it’s a firmly retro look, but it’s a forgivable crime. Basically I think Kravitz knows but doesn’t care, and Gillespie doesn’t know but really does care.

    By the way, Stardust by (the in my view unfairly derided) Menswear is a pretty viscious take-down of Bobby Gilespie which seemed to be missed at the time – “He’s a superficial fucker”

  2. 32
    Tommy Mack on 26 Sep 2014 #

    That (Stardust) seems quite unfair: Bobby Gillespie is like when you used to play cowboys or Ninja Turtles or whatever as a kid and you got so into it you told yourself you were a cowboy or a turtle and you swore for a minute it almost happened, like Carlos Castenada convincing himself he’d become a crow after he met Mescalito: he’s so excited about rock and punk and acid house he wants to be rock and punk and acid house and if he plays the game hard enough, maybe just for a minute he can be. How can you hate that?

    I never get the impression PS want to just recycle old myths to feed off the cool of the old myths. They want to make new music but they love the old myths so much, they want the old myths to be a part of the new music.

  3. 33
    Cumbrian on 26 Sep 2014 #

    For me, Gillespie and PS are more about who they choose to work with. I don’t think that it’s that they want old myths to be part of new music as much as they don’t have the talent to make new music sound like anything other than old myths when they are left to their own devices. That’s why their best records have heavy doses of people like Andrew Weatherall and Kevin Shields on them, the indelible moment on Shoot Speed/Kill Light is when Barney from New Order rocks in with the killer riff and there is usually an inverse law of quality to audibility of Bobby’s vocals/lyrics.

    Having managed to turn this entry, at least partly, into a discussion about Primal Scream, and the previous one into a discussion of Dire Straits, which of us will dare to try turn the upcoming bunny into a discussion of some more white, British, rock musicians and who will they choose? Athlete? Coldplay? Travis? I guess there is a way in on Travis…still, I would hope we’d manage to avoid it, given the next record is a lot more interesting than Lenny K’s efforts here.

  4. 34
    flahr on 26 Sep 2014 #

    Was the Peugeot advert before it hit #1? I have a Sporcle quiz to update if so so would appreciate confirmation.

  5. 35
    Ed on 27 Sep 2014 #

    @23 Wiki doesn’t mention this in a Virgin Atlantic ad. Virgin used ‘Crazy Horses’ around this time.

    This suggests it was an ad that got Fly Away to number one:
    http://www.adnews.com.au/26A2C72C-B5C9-4EB3-92BE8D68FBF5548D

    I’m no expert, but I would guess it’s a bad idea to use a song for your ad that’s already in use by another brand.

  6. 36
    DanH on 27 Sep 2014 #

    I’ll join the crowd…”Fly Away” is sooooooo boring. I have a lot of time for both “It Ain’t Over til it’s Over” and “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” but that’s as far into Kravitz as I go. I seem to remember hearing his stuff a lot here in the U.S. in the early ’00s…”Stillness of Heart,” “I Belong to You,” “Dig In,” “Again”….it’s sad I remember all these watered-down tracks. Especially hate his “American Woman” cover, a classic case of butchering a song I didn’t really like in the first place. Note how he evokes “Fly Away” at the end of that song too….oooh how subtle, sir….

    On a lighter note, we all know the Four Chords of Pop (“Don’t Stop Believing”)…is there a Four Chords of Rock I hear in “Fly Away”? Can sing “Wonderwall,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” over it…anything else…? ;-)

  7. 37
    Doctor Casino on 27 Sep 2014 #

    Can’t pretend i always hated this – I think I enjoyed it the first and maybe second time I heard it. That was about it though, and I’ve never once wanted to hear it since its heyday. This whole period of Kravitz was tough to take, just too much “Look! ROCK! I am ROCKING! Are you ROCKED?” without enough actual rocking. I liked some of the earlier ones, and “Black Velveteen” just for not sounding like this.

  8. 38
    Chris Retro on 27 Sep 2014 #

    I quite like Lenny Kravitz, but this isn’t all that great. It was a hit due to an advert at a time when his commercial stock in the UK was at an all-time low.
    I don’t mind it, the best thing about it at the time was that it brought something different sounding to #1 – and compared to the dreck that was to come in 1999 this is a masterpiece. But the track itself doesn’t do anything or go anywhere – although going round in ever-decreasing circles with Lenny is much more preferable to 911, Boyzone and the about-to-be-unleashed Westlife.
    In terms of sound and radio play, the follow-up to Fly Away as far as the British public were concerned was the New Radicals single which seemed to be playlisted for the duration of the year once it charted – both 60’s/70’s Americana streamlined for 1999.
    The best thing about Fly Away for me though was Lenny’s cool hat.

    I’ll give it a 6 – even as a bit of a Kravitz fan I can’t pretend it’s any better than that.

  9. 39
    Ed on 27 Sep 2014 #

    Looking back, the number of advert soundtracks that made it to number one is the most “what were we thinking?” aspect of the 1990s charts. Say what you like about S____ C_____’s satanic reign, at least his songs are advertising only themselves, and their singers, and the talent contest that spawned them. They aren’t trying to sell you plane tickets or a hot hatchback.

    The idea of people voluntarily going out and paying money to buy the soundtracks to popular commercials shows why Naomi Klein had to happen, I think.

    On a lighter note, It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over – Kravitz-does-Mayfield – is indeed rather lovely, and certainly my favourite of his hits.

  10. 40
    tm on 28 Sep 2014 #

    I didn’t know IAOTIO was Lenny Kravitz. It’s a much better Philly soul homage than this is a rawk one, so I guess credit’s due to him for range if not originality.

  11. 41
    wichitalineman on 28 Sep 2014 #

    The Kravitz homage thing – seemingly leaving most people cold – is interesting. I got into a twitter conversation about Robert Palmer the other day. He has a lot of people who’ll stand by him. But Every Kinda People (Curtis Mayfield, his IAOTIO), Addicted To Love (rawk), and Johnny And Mary (synthpop) are all homages to a degree. He also covered everyone from Allen Toussaint to Gary Numan to Cherelle to Husker Du. And yet, these records work as Robert Palmer records. Kravitz sounds like a pastiche of something ‘old’, no more no less, everything’s in the right place. The Kravitz process feels something like embalming (see also Give Out But Don’t Give Up), whereas Robert Palmer’s songs sound like a celebration (see also Angel Fingers). Maybe playfulness is the key?

  12. 42
    Another Pete on 28 Sep 2014 #

    I heard his latest offering ‘The Chamber’ on Radio 2. His latest homage seems to be to Elvis Costello and New Wave.

  13. 43
    Lazarus on 28 Sep 2014 #

    I thought ‘Let Love Rule’ was very Costello-ish, actually.

  14. 44
    Mark M on 28 Sep 2014 #

    Like various other people here seem to, I think It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over is by some way Kravitz’s best moment. But I’m inclined to feel that your ultimate judgement on him comes down to whether you think this shows that he has a sense of humour about himself, or reveals that he has no sense of humour.

  15. 45
    Justified Ancient on 28 Sep 2014 #

    @41 Maybe the difference is that Robert Palmer is a performer of songs whereas Lenny Kravitz is a mascot for a sound.

    Listening to “Fly Away” I wondered if the fact that its super-generic lyrics lend themselves so perfectly to ads, powerpoint presentations, in-flight TV programmes or documentaries about holidays in the sun / retired airline pilots / model airplane freaks / balloon aficionados etc, in the same way that James Brown’s “I Feel Good” has been thoroughly eviscerated over the years for similar purposes was not, at least in part, intentional. Like a retirement provision (“Ok, I’ve done the fluffy Curtis Mayfield stuff and the Hendrix pastiche, the retro nineties may be running out soon, let’s just quickly write a song that gives me decades of royalties”).

  16. 46
    Joe on 29 Sep 2014 #

    This is a bit like Inside by Stiltskin in that the it sounds much better in the brief bit used in the ad then as a full song although I’d put Fly Away a couple of points above Inside. I think the ad this was used on aired around November 98 because it was a while after until I first saw the video on some late night programme. Then it was another few weeks before it made No.1 which was a surprise to me as I presumed it was an old song from the early 90’s and having liked it a lot when the ad was first shown I was already bored of it. That’s one major negative effect on the charts at this time. By the time a song was released many people were already sick of it and the new songs on TV/Radio weren’t going to be charting for another few weeks meaning the charts were moving much faster then before but were now usually about 2-3 weeks out of date.

    #39

    It seems to be more common now for songs that have already been huge hits to start showing up on ads a few months later.

  17. 47
    punctum on 29 Sep 2014 #

    What is the point of Lenny Kravitz? That he is an accomplished pasticheur is beyond question, but you could say the same about any Shaftesbury Avenue pavement artist. He appears to want to live in an eternal 1970, but hasn’t really worked out which 1970 he prefers; Curtis Mayfield (“It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over”) or the last days of Hendrix (“Are You Gonna Go My Way?”). Todd Rundgren could emulate his heroes to a frightening degree of accuracy – but that wasn’t all he was capable of doing. “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” seems to emphasise the contradictions; he knows his Hendrix records but is totally unaware of Hendrix’s reasons, so is capable of no more than “Crosstown Traffic” with period split stereo guitars and Rich Little grunts but minus all of the blood, uncertainty, apocalypse and true sex. With specific regard to the latter, his Madonna collaboration “Justify My Love” seems to me his one unarguable masterpiece in that he takes elements from the then-now (the Public Enemy drum loop and residual ambiguous harmonic echo) and creates an even newer nowness.

    “Fly Away” owes its success to its use in a Peugeot car TV commercial and scarcely seems to exist beyond the realm of advertising jingle; the left channel only guitar thunk is present and correct, uneasily struggling with 1972 synthy squelches and clavinet-as-bass-guitar as Kravitz whines about wanting to “fly away/just like a dragonfly” and inviting his unspecified other to help him “see the stars/The Milky Way or even Mars/Where it could just be ours” (confirming his dubious approach to both rhyming and scansion). But he never expresses any painful urge to provoke flying, nor does he betray what he’s flying from or why. It exists merely as a catalogue of referred reflex gestures in rock; ideal for those high-earning Peugeot drivers too busy to take in subtlety, subtext or tone in the music they profess to like and consume, and finally too busy actually to listen. 1 for the silent right channel during the intro

  18. 48
    Tommy Mack on 29 Sep 2014 #

    That’s a good point: emulating the 60s’ hard-panned stereo mixing belies the pointless authenticity of this particular approach to retro (I.e. doing it because it’s old rather than doing it because it’s good). In other words, certain aspects of the sixties are worth pilfering in and of themselves (who wouldn’t want to play or dress like Hendrix if they thought they could pull it off?) but reproducing one of the era’s ropier production quirks just seems a bit trainspottery.

    (The perhaps unplanned upside of the 60s brutalist approach to stereo being that by playing with the balance one can hear acapella/instrumental versions of classic albums of the period. In 1995 this allowed Dave Cross to use the backing track for Drive My Car for the classic anti-drugs song “Baby you can take some drugs/guess you’re gonna be a thug” during GCSE Drama. Happy days.)

    Anway, on to Britney…

  19. 49
    Rory on 29 Sep 2014 #

    Time for my Bateman moment as The Man Who Liked Songs of Innocence.

    No, really. It’s my favourite U2 album in twenty years. “California” and “Volcano” are highlights, but every track has something going for it, and it’s a long time since I could say that of a U2 album. I like the echoes of Boy and other early U2, and Franz Ferdinand, and James, and even the dread Coldplay. So there.

    Also, getting Apple to front up presumably millions for an exclusive deal was genius, given that the royalties from No Line on the Horizon can’t have amounted to much. It’s a trick you couldn’t pull off too many times, because attracting newcomers to iTunes will be a case of diminishing returns from here on, but who cares. Apart from the Irish Revenue.

    “Fly Away”, though: dullsville. I didn’t mind IAOTIO and AYGGMW, but as generic rock sounds go this is the definition of 4 for me, minus a point for coming 25 years too late = 3.

  20. 50
    ciaran on 20 Oct 2014 #

    Kravitz always struck me as the kind of rock star trying way too hard to be liked and one of those keepin it real style frauds.

    Fly Away was indeed used in a Peugout ad in early 99 so sadly it gave Kravitz a boost when his career looked all but over. The lyrics are terrible and goes on way longer than it should. 1999’s equivalent of Stiltskin.3.

    Even after it he never had a hit of note with the utterly dreadful American Woman cover later in the year a lowpoint.

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