Sunday, September 20, 2009

Away, Do You Fly?

Was listening to Lenny Kravitz's Fly Away for the first time in forever, and I realize, it kind of sucks. It's not awful, and it passes the gut-test: it's enjoyable to listen to more than once. But when you start looking at the nuts and bolts of the tune, there's not much there.

The song has exactly one chord progression: A, C, G, D, all major chords. Pretty standard alternative rock fare, the typical box-pattern riff that made riff-rock so laughable as the 90's drew to a close. During the verses, it's driven by bass, but it's the same chords. And while the choruses are guitar-driven. And what's with that intro? The guitar riff starts out in one channel, which is fine, and then there's a cymbal crash and the rest of the band comes in. 2 measures later, the guitar comes in on the right channel. What?

The lyrics are... "trite" is a polite word for it. Let's take a look at the first verse, shall we?

I wish that I could fly, into the sky, so very high
Just like a dragonfly.
I'd fly above the trees, over the seas in all degrees
To anywhere I please

Ignoring the fact that dragonflies aren't known for attaining mad altitude, what is this supposed to mean, exactly? I get a little bit about "freedom" from the end there, but more than that I get the feeling that Kravitz phoned this one in. If "degrees" isn't a cheap rhyme, I don't know what is. Let's see how the second chorus measures up.

Let's go and see the stars, the Milky Way, or even Mars
Where it can just be ours
Let's fade into the sun, let your spirit fly, where we are one
Just for a little fun

So, I'd say we're firmly out of dragonfly territory. Why "Mars" is a bigger draw than "The Milky Way" eludes me, but whatever. Now we're starting to see a little bit of narrative. This isn't about getting away, it's about getting away with someone else. The second half of the verse gets a little abstract, but that's fine, although the line "just for a little fun" seems to undermine the spiritual context that came out just a few syllables earlier.

So now we've figured out what the song is about. Sneaking off to go get laid. In the spirit of I Think We're Alone Now, which is fine for pop music. But how does this register in the chorus? The chorus just repeats "I want to get away, I want to fly away, yeah, yeah, yeah" over and over. Or does it?

There's something else there, something that I'd never noticed until a few days ago. Under the cacophony of "yeah, yeah, yeah", there's a smaller "with you" also being sung. So it sort of makes sense, and there's a hell of a hook at the root of this song, it's just kind of a sloppy execution of concept.

In short, Mr. Kravitz has committed a "Jack White" crime of songwriting--he's taken an awesome idea and not bothered to develop it enough. Which is why Fly Away was a hit. Hell, it was 1998--we rockers needed something to pull us out of the sea of boy bands. But ten years on, it's proven to be a pretty forgettable tune.

Which goes for most of Lenny's catalog, in my opinion.