Although swaggering rock hunk Lenny Kravitz desperately wants to be grouped with such hard-riffing hall of famers as Led Zeppelin and the Who, he probably has more in common with "Weird Al" Yankovic. Sure, Kravitz would never stoop to turning "My Sharona" into "My Bologna" -- and it probably wasn't his accordion-playing that seduced Nicole Kidman. But still, like the punnyman, the power-chorder has always been far more interested in tweaking the classics than churning out fresh tunes of his own.
On his new album, "Baptism," the 40-year-old Kravitz plays almost every instrument on almost every arena-ready cut, and his slick production skills and neato effects seem aimed at audio nerds with highfalutin headphones. But despite the exhaustive effort -- and the title's reference to a musical rebirth -- this is, start to finish, the same old Lenny, a guy who doesn't stray far from his classic-rock record collection. The constant game of Name That Influence gets tiring.
The most obvious nod to his heroes here is "Flash," about the ephemeral nature of celebrity, which echoes the riff from "Jumping Jack Flash." The single "Where Are We Runnin'?" blends ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" and the Go-Go's "We Got the Beat," two great songs that make for a banging if totally derivative one. Kravitz gets his "Major Tom"-era Bowie on for the pensive "The Other Side." And for axes-aplenty opener "Minister of Rock 'N Roll" -- "I'll make you freak and make you lose control" -- he basically re-howls his own "Always on the Run."
"California," the most guilt-free pleasure here, looks back on the wonder year when his mother, "The Jeffersons" star Roxie Roker, moved 11-year-old Lenny from New York to the Golden State. Praising the joys of two-tone Vans sneakers and OP shorts, the song cruises along on a summery melody and the singer's sexy, hopeful wail. Okay, so the burbling guitar solo will remind you of "Hold on Loosely," but hey, isn't it time .38 Special got some love, too?
-- Sean Daly