Living Colour

Vivid
Time's Up
Stain


Vivid (Epic ’88) Rating: A-
Sadly, this band’s primary claim to fame was that they were a commercially successful (at least initially) African American hard rock band, which almost obscured the fact that they were damn good and that they always did things their way. Vivid boasts a raw, live energy and the guitar pyrotechnics of band leader Vernon Reid, whose noisy, flashy axe phrasings embellish almost every song. But this is a band effort, as bassist Muzz Skillings and drummer William Calhoun supply heavy but funky rhythms and beats, and singer Corey Glover proves to be a real find. His powerful voice conveys Reid’s smart, angry lyrics about black America, and this album makes strong statements about social injustices without succumbing to easy solutions. The album is notable for empowering messages such as “you’ve got a right to fight for your neighborhood” and bitter lines like “I look at the T.V., your America’s doing well, I look out the window, my America’s catching hell.” The band also shows a more personal side on lonely love songs such as “I Want To Know” and “Broken Hearts,” the latter of which wisely notes “I hear they say that broken hearts will mend, but when they do they’re never good as new.” Musically, in addition to a predominant funk and metal mixture, Living Colour’s hybrid sound also offers melodic pop, slick r&b, and even a stab at country soul. A tight band with chops to spare, Living Colour simply couldn't be pigeonholed. This made their eventual commercial decline inevitable, but that was a few years later, as Vivid went top ten in the U.S./U.K. and briefly made Living Colour one of the hippest bands around. The hard rocking, Malcolm X/John F. Kennedy quoting “Cult Of Personality” (their signature song and the one you’re still likely to hear today) and the poppy “Glamour Boys” were the big radio hits, but “I Want To Know,” “Open Letter (To A Landlord),” “Broken Hearts,” and “Which Way To America” are almost as good. The rest 'aint bad, either.

Time’s Up (Epic ’90) Rating: B+
Once again Living Colour delivers a strong set of riff driven hard rock with expressive, angry lyrics seeking to raise consciousness about the black experience. The fleet fingers of Vernon Reid are all over the place and again serve as the main highlight of a musicianly band. His idiosyncratic leads form the backbone of energetic selections such as “New Jack Theme,” “Information Overload,” and “Fight The Fight.” Unfortunately, though there are a lot of good songs here, Time’s Up is a little too eclectic for its own good. This eclecticism yields impressive results on songs such as the reggae-tinged ballad “Solace Of You” and the jazzy single “Love Rears It’s Ugly Head,” but the album grows tedious at times due to some unnecessary experiments and preachy “History Lesson(s).” The lyrics touch on the numerous social problems plaguing America in the ‘90s, such as “one baby having another.” And though there are times when I wish that the band would more freely dispense with their hooks, like on “Pride,” “Someone Like You,” and “Type” for instance, clearly they have their very own thing going on, and you just gotta respect that.

Stain (Epic ’93) Rating: B+
For this release, the band gets darker. The music is stripped down and raw, and the socially aware lyrics have a more cynical edge to them. Stain marks the debut of former Tackhead bassist Doug Wimbish, who replaces Muzz Skillings. Wimbish’s primal thud helps fuel the band’s heavier sound on bitter, angry rockers such as “Go Away,” “Leave It Alone,” “Mind Your Own Business,” “Auslander,” “Never Satisfied,” and “Postman.” Elsewhere, “Bi,” a lighthearted look at bisexuality, and “Nothingness,” an emotional ballad about isolation, offer less forceful respites from the rage running throughout Stain. This riff-based, refreshingly straightforward album has less variety than on previous efforts, and the songwriting is at times rather perfunctory. However, the band has also tightened up some of their excesses, and though some of these songs are overly repetitive, by and large the band’s tremendous energy level and intensity duly compensates. Regrettably, with the band’s 15 minutes apparently having passed, Stain didn’t sell diddly and would prove to be their swan song, at least until an underpublicized reunion nearly a decade later that has thus far produced two additional albums that I’ve yet to hear: Collideøscope (2003) and The Chair In The Doorway (2009).

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