Lenny Kravitz Goes Retro, Again

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) — When retro-rocker Lenny Kravitz released his first album 11 years ago, he was better known as the husband of Lisa Bonet, comely co-star of The Cosby Show.

After five albums and two Grammy Awards, he has managed to carve out his own identity as a musician, albeit one who proudly proclaims his classic rock influences.

Now with the holiday shopping season approaching, Virgin Records has released a hits compilation featuring one new tune, "Again," and 14 old tracks. Greatest Hits debuted at No. 2 on the latest U.S. album charts, a career best for Kravitz, selling an impressive 163,000 copies.

"It's not Lenny's Favorite Tracks or obscure things," Kravitz, a tad underwhelmed by the release, said in a recent interview with Reuters. "It wasn't my idea. I just never would have thought of putting out a greatest-hits record, at all, in general."

But it at least offered him the opportunity to make a video for "Again," in which he bares his buttocks and finds himself torn between actress Gina Gershon and Tommy Hilfiger model Theresa Lourenco.

After splitting with Bonet in 1991 — the couple has an 11-year-old daughter, Zoe — Kravitz has been linked with a prodigious number of glamorous women, including Vanessa Paradis, Kate Hudson, Kylie Minogue, and Natalie Imbruglia. He's currently seeing a model half his age.

Us Weekly magazine recently ran a picture of Kravitz, 36, and Devon Aoki, daughter of Benihana restaurant chain mogul Rocky Aoki, smooching on a New York street, and reported that she was 17.

"She's 18," Kravitz corrects. "Of course it makes me look bad."

New Album Next Year

At any rate, Kravitz has other things on his mind.

He has cut several tracks for his next album, which should be ready by the end of 2001. "Again" was one of those tracks, but he decided to release it separately, deciding it didn't fit in with the album's tone. As with all his albums, Kravitz is producing himself and playing most of the instruments.

The release will be the last under his current Virgin contract, and he hopes to re-up with the label.

"I've been in the game now 11 years. I expect some different things" — like a better royalty rate.

If the next album does as well as his last studio release, 1998's 5, which has sold 6 million copies worldwide, Kravitz will be in a good bargaining position.

Even the 1995 dud Circus, which fell off the U.S. Top 200 album charts after just eight weeks, was the biggest of his career in Japan, the world's second-largest market.

"The good thing about my career is it's very international, so if it wasn't a hit here it probably was a hit elsewhere."

Asked whether he's worth more than $10 million, Kravitz says, "I should hope so." But he's "not quite" at $50 million. He spends a lot of his money on musical gear, including a console used by the Beatles, and is turning his attention as a collector to the art world next.

"I love Basquiat," he says of the late underground artist. "I knew a bunch of his people when I first came to New York. I never met him, but I love his work."

Simple Writer

True to its name, Greatest Hits boasts such tunes as "Let Love Rule," the title track from his 1989 debut album; the soulful "It Ain't Over Til It's Over," from his 1991 breakthrough, Mama Said; and the crunchy 1993 anthem "Are You Gonna Go My Way."

Also included are "Fly Away" and his cover of the Guess Who's "American Woman." Both were huge hits, both won Grammys, and both were throwaway tracks. The former showcased his flair for facile lyrics — "I wish that I could fly/ Into the sky/ So very high/ Just like a dragonfly …"

"I'm a simple writer," Kravitz explains. "People either love my lyrics, they hate them, whatever they want. The best writers were simple. Bob Marley was one of the most prophetic people around; he was very simple."

And he quotes the opening line from Marley's "Three Little Birds" — "Don't worry about a thing/ 'Cause every little thing's going to be all right."

He tries to apply Marley's sentiments to his own life. The best advice Kravitz received from his many rock star pals was former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant's admonition, "Just to take it light, man. … For a time, you start to take it seriously and what not, but you can't."