Living Colour is a band whose appearance gets more attention than their music– being the “all black” heavy metal group seems to be more critical to the press and publicity folks than anything else. Indeed, the cover of this reissue bears a sticker that reads “the groundbreaking rap/rock fusion album”, which leads me to believe entirely that the person who put that sticker on there had never actually heard Living Colour before.
Living Colour grew out of the Black Rock Coalition– an organization started by (among others) guitarist Vernon Reid for black musicians interested in playing rock music. Reid, British born but a longtime New York resident, was well known on the downtown New York jazz scenes courtesy of his tenure in Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society. An guitarist of unnerving technique and speed, he assembled a number of bands under the name Living Colour before settling on this quartet– bassist Muzz Skillings, drummer Will Calhoun (both graduates of the Berklee School of Muisc) and vocalist Corey Glover (who Reid met at a birthday party and was suitably impressed with a rendition of “Happy Birthday”). In Skillings and particularly Calhoun, Reid had a rhythm section with the ability to express themselves in dozens of forms, and in Glover he had a vocalist who could produce depths of soul or rage upon demand. Somehow Mick Jagger became hip to them, and the result was a deal with Sony and their debut album, “Vivid”.
Essentially an album of extraordinarily well executed hard rock music– with more in common with Led Zeppelin than contemporary “metal” acts, “Vivid” is a fantastic debut. What makes the album is the level of subtlety in the music– take hit song “Cult of Personality”– essentially riff-based rock, it’s so well executed that you barely notice the rhythm guitar drops out during Reid’s solo as Skillings managed to fill the space. But while the opener is a slab of hard rock, the band moves through soulful metal (the unbelievable “Open Letter to a Landlord”), great rock (“Middle Man”), fantastic love songs (“I Want to Know”), funk (“Funny Vibe”) and the Talking Heads (“Memories Can’t Wait”). Along the way, the band tackles topics as politics (“Cult of Personality”), housing (“Open Letter…”), racism (“Funny Vibe”) and the failure of the American dream (“Which Way to America?”). The album’s not altogether flawless– “Middle Man” lacks the energy it’d carry live, “What’s Your Favorite Color?” was a spectacularly bad idea, and I’m one of the folks who just can’t deal with glitzy pop song “Glamour Boys”, but there’s so much good on here, it’s easy to forget.
This reissue is augmented by a series of bonus tracks– a couple live performances, a performance of “Funny Vibe” featuring a full rap vocal, and a stunning cover of the Clash classic “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”. In addition, it benefits vastly from remastering with extraordinarily enhanced sound.
Living Colour did better albums, but this one is no slouch, and probably the best place to begin examining their career. Recommended.