Sep 14


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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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  1. 1
    thefatgit on 25 Sep 2014 #

    Take “In Bloom” and squeeze all the disdain and sneer from it. Turn what’s left into a jingle and hang everything off the monster hook. Package it as though Kravitz is the answer to that nagging question all the Q heads had been asking since Britpop imploded: WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF ROCK SOUND LIKE???

    Answer: not this.

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    Cumbrian on 25 Sep 2014 #

    Funny you mention Jet (alongside New Bunnied Welsh Band) – because they reminded me one hell of a lot of Lenny K’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way?”, which is comfortably the high water mark of his career as far as I can see. The riff slays “Fly Away” and after the solo, just as it’s about to get boring on another run through, the drums ring out last orders and he just downs his pint and walks out. Mark Romanek’s video is classic too – everyone knows it’s just a mid-70s rock track, all the band have 70s haircuts that belong to different groups from the era, there’s a ridiculous lighting rig that descends like a crown of light at the beginning as Lenny plays 70s Rock God/Jesus poses and there’s a load of people dancing around like it’s an episode of TOTP from 1974 as well. Uncomplicated riffage that everyone seems to know is a bit ridiculous that doesn’t out stay its welcome.

    Fly Away on the other hand seems to have lost all of that sense of fun. It’s just a bit po-faced and serious. He’s not the only rock artist that got to this point of the 90s in this frame of mind but he is the one we’re discussing here, so he’s the one getting it both barrels from me – this attitude was a real downer and made bands like The White Stripes and, later on, The Darkness, really stand out as not being too up their own arse to realise that a bit of artifice and playfulness wouldn’t go amiss. So a pox on you, Lenny, for this – but I still love AYGGMW? so you’re not all bad.

    On a personal note, I think I might actually be able to re-engage with music again after about 4 or 5 months of just hating virtually everything. Weirdly, having a U2 album foisted on me without me realising it, was just the thing to make me want to listen to something else. Especially if that is the answer to the question WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF ROCK SOUND LIKE???

    It’s not Fly Away. It’s not whatever that track about Joey Ramone is called either.

  3. 3
    flahr on 25 Sep 2014 #

    #2 Surely you don’t m-m-mean… “JOEY RAMONEY” BY HELEN LOVE?

    This is a bit pants. About its only virtue is that it doesn’t last longer than four minutes, which it very easily could. I actually like rock music and even I struggle to imagine anyone ever actually buying this. You bet I want to get away: [2]. Only slightly better than Elbow.

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    Tommy Mack on 25 Sep 2014 #

    Is there a song about Joey Ramone on that free U2 album? At least that explain’s why they’re projecting Joey’s face on Bono’s outline in the advert like Freddy Krueger’s chest of tormented souls. Never been so glad I plumped for Android.

    Lenny Kravitz: Of the two songs I know (the two mentioned already) – I’m always pleased to hear the opening riffs and then bored once he starts singing. He’s a weird bugger really, isn’t he: like a real-life version of a rock star from a kids’ TV sitcom: a kind of Mondeo man’s Bobby Gillespie; all gesture and reference and attitude but without the this-and-this-and-this-too inclusivity of Primal Scream.

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    thefatgit on 25 Sep 2014 #

    Yes! An American Primal Scream was what I was trying to think of.

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    Kinitawowi on 25 Sep 2014 #

    Kravitz did a decent enough American Woman and It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over is perfectly servicable; AYGGMW is a solid classic.

    But as noted, this is in fact the answer to WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF ROCK SOUND LIKE???: dull, plodding and nowhere near as good as anything else he’s ever done. Still, it’s not as bad as Jet; 3 is about bang on.

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    23 Daves on 25 Sep 2014 #

    One for my personal “Did this really get to number one?!” file. I had no idea. Clearly I was looking the other way when the charts were announced that week, and I’d always assumed it was merely a moderate top ten hit, though even that is more than it deserved. I can’t think of much to add to the discussion.

    However, I can’t let a Lenny Kravitz thread go by without bringing up this utterly bizarre appearance on the long-forgotten late night music show “The Dome”: http://youtu.be/ZPrRhdwG8Ec The backing musicians, pros that they are, calmly continue performing as if nothing is amiss, waiting for the great man to return and cut them free from their rehearsed cycle.

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    Ronnie on 25 Sep 2014 #

    This is one of those songs I like and don’t particularly mind that other people don’t like. People *shouldn’t* like it, honestly; if there was a major critical upswell in support of “Fly Away” (especially in this, the year of 2014), something would be seriously wrong. The lyrics are pretty thoroughly awful, and musically it’s a lumpen and unfinished thing.

    But I can’t help it, I hear that riff and my mind goes FUCK YEAH. Call me a traditionalist, I guess.

    And as for why Kravitz got compared to Hendrix, it’s because on his biggest and best song, he sounded like he was trying to be Hendrix. Kravitz did indeed have many influences but rarely more than one on the same song (possibly less, in the case of “Fly Away.” Anyone care to identify any precursors?). Kravitz reminds me quite a bit of Bruno Mars, another artist who is quite enjoyable when working in self-conscious but mostly tedious when working as himself.

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    lonepilgrim on 25 Sep 2014 #

    this sounds like the kind of song you might make up in the shower while pissed – the lyrics are neither as quirky as Prince, as engaged as early 70s Stevie Wonder or as starkly dumb as the Stooges (to pluck three comparisons out of my addled brain); instead they are lazy and dull. The music is like a treadmill, simulating movement but going nowhere. Could do better

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    chelovek na lune on 26 Sep 2014 #

    An interlude (and far too obvious candidate for advertising jingles) rather than a joy to treasure and consider at length: positively, less cringingly pastiche-esque than some of his work (“I Build This Garden For Us” – bleurgh, you AND John Lennon, eh?). Negatively: not terribly interesting or substantive, if unobjectionable, but very far in stature from when he really was good (“Believe” being his standout track IMO)

    I remember Carter USM, in a creative lull, having a (pretty, well in fact very) crap single dissing both Lenny and Terence (Trent d’Darby): no fair, the latter, while prone to self-influence and noodling (…) was immeasurably more creative and had a broader range. Here, as too often, Lenny seems like a late 60s psychedelic rock revivalist who just, and too evidently, wasn’t there. “Fly Away” though? It has energy and drive, at least, up to a point. I kind of file it alongside Jamiroquai’ s recent no. 1, both stylistically and terms of the place it holds in the artist’s own catalogue: looking back, and far from the artist’s best, perhaps too weighed down by imagined, but not terribly inspired, ideas of times (recently) past. 5

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    JLucas on 26 Sep 2014 #

    Am I right in thinking that this was heavily used in a popular advert at the time? (I want to say Levi’s, because it was always Levi’s…) or did that only happen after it was a hit?

    Because as obviously commercial as this is, it’s a weird anomaly in Lenny Kravitz’ surprisingly poor UK chart career. Prior to this his sole top ten hit had been AYGGMW – #4 in 1993 – and the previous two singles from the album had charted at #48 and #75 respectively. To date he’s only returned to the top 40 once subsequently, enlisting P.Diddy and Pharrell Williams to guest on ‘Show Me Your Soul in 2004 and getting a #35 out of it.

    That’s a really poor record given how well known he is, although he’s had hits in America that didn’t really do anything here. As for the song, it’s a decent hook but little more. Inoffensive daytime radio fare that I can’t summon particularly strong feelings about either way and couldn’t at the time either.


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    Alfred on 26 Sep 2014 #

    Although it never hit #1 in the States, “Fly Away” was massive — omnipresent like few #1 singles are. From 1998-2000 it and “Something About the Way You Look Tonight” ruled recurrent playlists. It also augured Kravitz’s brief period of superstardom, of which “Again” would be the peak. As a guy who bought “Let Love Rule” in ’89 because I was too young to start buying Prince (wait another year), I never thought he topped the light, buoyant, Earth Wind & Fire/Spinners homage “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over.”

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    mapman132 on 26 Sep 2014 #

    Surprised by the negativity this one is getting. Perhaps it’s because it’s a bit of a monolith – used in commercials, stadiums, you name it, at least in the US – perhaps similar in the UK? Every time I hear this song a flying skateboarder appears in my mind – not from the music video apparently – must’ve been from a commercial. Despite the overexposure, I liked it then, and see no reason to change my mind now. 8/10.

    LK’s had a very strange chart career in the US. His highest charting hit – and only Top 40 entry until “Fly Away” – is “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”, blocked at #2 by Bryan Adams in 1991. Shockingly, AYGGMW missed the Hot 100 entirely even though it’s better known than IAOTIO even in America. Maybe there was no single release (?), but other LK singles were released around the same time (ex: “Believe” peaked at #60). LK’s highest charting Soundscan-era hit is “Again”, #4 in 2000.

    Bringing us back to “Fly Away”: It peaked on the Hot 100 at #12. So obviously it wasn’t as popular in the US as the UK, right? Not so fast: It was the 29th biggest Hot 100 hit of 1999, but only 58th in the UK. A perfect example of the difficulty of comparing peak positions in the US vs. the UK – of course, I’m as guilty as anybody at attempting to do this, perhaps more so.

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    Alfred on 26 Sep 2014 #

    1999 was also the year in which physical singles became almost non-existent and airplay counted for a lot but not enough.

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    Matthew K on 26 Sep 2014 #

    Agreed Mr Kravitz is a waste of resources, but I am always amazed by the casual hate for Primal Scream as if they were purely derivative. Have you guys even heard Vanishing Point, or XTRMNTR? Those albums are insanely good, and anything but slavishly derivative.

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    Ed on 26 Sep 2014 #

    @11 Yes, Fly Away was the soundtrack to a commercial for the Peugeot 206, which I think was the reason for its otherwise inexplicable success.

    This is the ad, which must have looked pretty cool for 1999:


    An all-time great YouTube comment below, too, praising the song but lamenting that the fact that the Peugeot 206 was a step back in terms of reliability from the 205. I think that says everything you need to know about the music.

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    Ed on 26 Sep 2014 #

    @8 Kravitz may have been trying to sound like Hendrix, but he didn’t get very close, did he? I agree maybe there’s something a little Hendrix-like about the vocals, but the guitar is a million miles away. Hendrix really didn’t play that kind of grinding distorted chordal riff very much at all. Maybe on Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), but there he screws it up spectacularly , rather than playing it straight.

    And the drums are not remotely like the suppleness of Mitch Mitchell.

    I think of Kravitz as a prime example – and perhaps the first example – of what Mark Fisher says about the Arctic Monkeys. It’s clear he’s a revival act, but it’s much less obvious what he’s reviving.

    Overall, the effect is not so much that he’s trying to be Hendrix or whoever, more that he’s going for a general aura of old-timeyness.

    Which makes him perfect for a car advert. He can sound like one of the stars the target market will remember from their youth, without carrying any controversial ideas about society, politics or sex that might upset people.

  18. 18
    Steve Williams on 26 Sep 2014 #

    Of course we’re still on 1999’s amazing run of one week number ones and I guess this is what you might come up with if there was some sort of rule that there had to be a different number one every week – a fairly likeable and inoffensive song that the majority of people would find agreeable enough.

    I found it quite an interesting period. There’s certainly been plenty of diversity over the past ten number ones and to have them all in successive weeks surely creates the most frantic period in the history of the charts so far. I’ve also got fond memories of this era because at university our course, apart from one exam, had the whole of January off (but to make up for it we ran longer into December than any of the other courses, meaning the week before Christmas 1997 there were about a dozen of us rattling around the halls of residence) and it was the last time I had a long carefree period of doing next to nothing without knowing I had to get a job.

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    GREEN WITH RAGE on 26 Sep 2014 #

    @15 – First posting after reading for about a year, around Earth Song time (I’m more enthused and engaged this week FOR SOME REASON – see para 3 below) and I’m using it mainly to provide a high 5 for Matthew K. Ver Scream are one of the most frustratingly inconsistent bands I’ve ever had the dubious pleasure to call a favourite – far too happy to revert to basic bloozrock when it suits (although, given recent tragic events, the reasoning behind that may be all too sadly apparent), but capable on a good day of ridiculously inspired and thrilling music. Screamadelica, natch, but I got very excited by my first hearing of Kowalski, pretty stoked by the parent album, astonished by the MBV Arkestra remix single (plus the gorgeous Darklands cover on the flip)… and then came XTRMNTR. Holy cow.

    The pinnacle of Gillespie’s paranoia and anti-establishment rhetoric, this time utterly justified and powered on by the greatest punk-disco-white noise fusion there had ever, HAS ever been, made this utterly vital and a handy trump card for Alan McGee to crow about his championing of “dangerous” music (like, erm, Ed Ball and One Lady Owner). I adored this album immediately, felt perplexed by my friends’ ambivalence towards it, and still play it loud every chance I get. The Glasgow Green show the following summer remains the best gig I’ve *ever* been to.

    And as a disaffected Scot even more worried for the future after last the events of last Friday, “Exterminator” the track has accompanied many a nervous trudge around the streets, in this most difficult of weeks.

    Oh, sorry, yeah – Kravitz? Nah, mate. Guff. TWO for the riff, docked a point for my Uni halls mate declaring this to be the greatest rock song in ages and boasting “I can play that song!” – no, friend, that’s the 10 second riff and no more.


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    GREEN WITH RAGE on 26 Sep 2014 #

    @19 – and I got my website address wrong. Still getting used to it – 2 days young and all that…

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    Cmmmbase on 26 Sep 2014 #

    @13 – there was no US single release for AYGGMW, hence it didn’t chart on the Hot 100. It was a massive rock radio hit though (#1 on mainstream rock and #2 on modern rock charts).

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    PurpleKylie on 26 Sep 2014 #

    #1 on my 11th birthday. I remember watching CD:UK (I’m really showing my age here) and being surprised that this song out of nowhere got to #1, I hadn’t heard the song at all before then.

    It sounds exactly what it was used for: an advert soundtrack, nothing else. Meh.

    It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over is a tune though.

  23. 23
    Tom on 26 Sep 2014 #

    I remember this as being an ad, but I thought it was for Virgin Atlantic, not for Peugot. No reason it couldn’t have been both, of course.

    #19 welcome Green With Rage! And good luck with the new blog! I think with Bobby Gillespie there’s a slight touch of the Bono or Damon about him – artists who, while everyone admits (to a greater or lesser degree) that they have made SOME good music, are still quite easy to mock as people. A disgraceful impulse, perhaps, but there it is.

    I never much liked XTRMNTR, to be quite honest, but I was coming off my personal peak listening to noise and krautrock and so on and was a bit snobby about it – perhaps I should revisit. Vanishing Point I liked a lot more, though it has one of the single worst overreaches of their career with “Star” – what ever possessed BG to think he could do Sly Stone? “Kowalski” I loved though, partly because it found something effective to do with Gillespie’s voice, always their main problem.

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    Nick R on 26 Sep 2014 #

    >and boasting “I can play that song!” – no, friend, that’s the 10 second riff and no more.

    Hey, every guitarist knows that once you can play a song’s intro hook and the first four bars of the solo, that’s all you need to be entitled to say “I can play that!”

    Verse background rhythm parts? The variation between a bridge leading to the outro and a bridge leading to a chorus? … Bah, who has time to learn details like that?

  25. 25
    swanstep on 26 Sep 2014 #

    Like ‘Praise You’ and ‘You Don’t Know Me’, ‘Fly Away’ takes a single, relatively pleasant musical idea and then beats it into the ground. Sober, I think all of them need their videos to be bearable, and I’m somewhat bemused by their wildly disparate Popular-responses. Next! (and I love Tom’s ‘getting this one out of the way’ antsiness here):
    3 (4 or more if drunk)

    Note: I think that kids today mainly know Kravitz from his role in The Hunger Games films (and also from his roles in things like The Butler and Precious). Such is the lot perhaps of rock stars most appreciated just for being ridiculously good-looking.

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    swanstep on 26 Sep 2014 #

    The vid for ‘Kill all hippies’ from XTRMNTR is one of the best things ever: http://youtu.be/E86gWQs-ios

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    Matthew K on 26 Sep 2014 #

    @19 and @26 – my humble thanks for solidarity. Thought I was losing my mind. And yeah the blues rock is a poor contrast to their caustic, blistering heights, but I will even defend “Pills” to the naysayers.

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    Matthew K on 26 Sep 2014 #

    And @23 Tom, I was neck deep in Neu! and noise rock at the time of XTRMNTR but it felt like a savage affirmation of those roots. The venom and abandon with which they laid into the material erased any sense of pastiche or curation. Sometimes you grab the best tools that come to hand without inventing from scratch (cf Dylan, Bob).

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    Tommy Mack on 26 Sep 2014 #

    @15 – I wasn’t knocking Primal Scream or calling all of their output derivative. Just comparing LK to Bobby in terms of being singers with an image built on classic rock tropes. XTRMNTR was one of my very favourite albums for many years after seeing a blinding performance at Reading 2000 and the only reason I’ve gone off it a bit is from playing it to death.

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    Tommy Mack on 26 Sep 2014 #

    Tom @23: I’ve come to quite like Star: it’s like watching Homer Simpson trying to climb the Murderhorn, you can’t help admire the naive chutzpah although the Sister Rosa/Dr King stuff is a bit studenty even for Bobby.

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