Reviewed on this page:
Vivid - Time's Up - Biscuits - Stain - Mistaken Identity - Hymns -
Front End Lifter - CollideØScope - Known Unknown - The Tao Of Yo - Other True Self - The Chair In The Doorway
Remember when artists used to improve as they went along? The
theory I've heard is that nowadays, bands have been together so
long by the time they finally get a record contract, they're
already as good as they're going to get. Anyway, Living Colour
happened when avant-garde guitar virtuoso Vernon Reid decided to
make some popular music, and while he was at it, to break down the
color barrier that had reasserted itself in rock and roll shortly
after the death of Jimi Hendrix. He
put together an excellent band, scrambled around trying to get a
record contract, got one, shot to fame, then broke up the band six
years later. After some solo projects, the group reunited in 2001, and a new album came out in 2003. (DBW)
To my ears, Living Colour is one of the best things to happen to rock music since the early 70s. They've got a unique sound, they rock really hard, they're usually in good taste, and their lyrics are interesting and meaningful - for some reason, this combination has escaped almost every heavy rock band in recent years. The closest thing to them in terms of creativity and artistic stature (if not sound) is early-period XTC, although unfortunately Living Colour barely even has a lighter side. The other downer is that, as Wilson hints, their records didn't show much progress after their 1988 debut. (JA)
Vernon Reid, guitar; Corey Glover, vocals; Muzz Skillings,
bass; William Calhoun, drums. Doug Wimbish replaced Skillings in 1992.
- This is a hell of a hard rock record; doesn't mess with the
conventions of the genre too much, except on the Caribbean-flavored
"Glamour Boys" and "Funny Vibe," which goes from thrash to rap -
with guests Public Enemy - and back again) but it does the job. I
don't care much for Reid as a soloist (he tends to whammy when he
can't think of anything else to do) but no living guitarist I've
heard can touch him at playing rhythm. Cool lyrics, too. Worth a
listen, especially if you're a hard-core "rock died in 1971" dude
like Alroy. (DBW)
- Well, yeah, I like it. Easiest place to start with this band, but I think Time's Up is better artistically. Mick Jagger guests here; these guys had good connections from the very start. (JA)
Live From CBGB's (rec. 1989, rel. 2005)
A live show recorded 12/19/1989; the set list includes six songs from their forthcoming album ("Love Rears Its Ugly Head") and only four from their debut ("Funny Vibe"; the two
singles). There are also a couple of rarities: "Sailin' On"; "Little Lies" and Reid's "Soldier's Blues."
Time's Up (1990)
- There's great stuff here, from straight-ahead rockers ("Type," "Elvis Is Dead")
to slower rockers
("Love Rears Its Ugly Head") to the African-influenced ballad "The Solace Of
You." But it's
marred by self-indulgent solo experiments by each band member (Reid's is
preachy to boot)
and a longwinded album closer ("This Is The Life"). (DBW)
- The experiments are mostly short and intriguing, except for Calhoun's "Pride" - not a drum solo, it's a fine consciousness-raising rocker. There are indeed several blustery, brainless riff-driven metal tunes like the title track here, but on song after song the band is trying hard to be clever and synergistic, and it mostly works. Just look at the funk/jazz/hip hop number "Under Cover Of Darkness," with Queen Latifah adding an amusing safe sex rap; the Egyptian stylings on "This Is The Life"; the little reggae touches on "Solace Of You"; or Little Richard's bizarre guest rap on "Elvis Is Dead." (JA)
A bunch of outtakes that should've stayed outtakes (including
boring versions of Hendrix's "Burning Of The Midnight Lamp," James
Brown's "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing" and Al Green's "Love And Happiness") and a couple of redundant live versions ("Desperate People").
It's often second-rate and only EP-length to start with, but the band is competent throughout, and diehards will appreciate it. (JA)
- A flop, and undeservedly so. Like Time's Up, it's full of bizarre and often fascinating experiments, some of which don't quite work. But unlike that record, it's coherent and attention-grabbing fun all the way through, even when the weirdness gets seriously weird ("WTTF"; "Hemp") - the band has less of a tendency here to get bogged down in dumb metal riffs. Most of it's super-heavy and uptempo, and that might put some people off, but the guys have lighter moments as well, like the wonderful, spaced-out ballad "Nothingness." The lyrics are just as thoughtful and slogan-laden as on previous records ("Bi"; "Wall"). And on top of all that, the fleet-fingered Wimbish, just joining the band here after years of session work, rocks just as hard as Skillings ever did. I just don't get it: how could anybody not enjoy a record full of catchy rock songs like "Leave It Alone" and "Never Satisfied"? (JA)
- The band's version of speed-metal meets grunge. They still come up with a few great rockers like "Ignorance Is Bliss," but there are too many aggressively stupid numbers like "Go Away" and "Mind Your Own Business." Personally, I find the lyrics to "Bi" silly and clichéd, and the music isn't much better. There's a lot of fun experimentation (the bridge of "Ausländer," "Nothingness"), but be prepared for a lot of sonic sludge along the way. (DBW)
A Japan-only collection of live performances (mostly of Stain tunes), unplugged remakes cut for Dutch radio ("Nothingness") and two B-sides: "TV News" and a cover of Prince & The Revolution's
"17 Days." Also this year, the band contributed a cover of "Sunshine Of Your Love" to the True
Lies soundtrack. (DBW)
A greatest hits collection, we're listing it here because it contains four tracks from a never-completed fourth studio album.
Mistaken Identity (Reid: 1996)
Vernon Reid solo, mostly backed by his new band Masque. It's not nearly as avant-garde as I was expecting: pretty much like Living Colour without the vocals.
He doesn't seem to have anything new to say: his guitar playing is still enjoyable but it's nothing you haven't heard before; the same for the heavy riff tunes.
His lack of message is most evident in the song titles, which are mostly weak puns ("Call Waiting To Exhale"). There's plenty of distracting spoken vocals and scratching,
and more than a few uninteresting samples, adding up to a surprisingly routine outing. He does throw in a couple of pleasant quiet numbers ("Unborne Embrace"),
and Don Byron shines when briefly featured on clarinet and bass clarinet. (DBW)
Hymns (Glover: 1998)
Produced by Family Stand members Peter Lord and Jeff Smith, Glover's first solo album glories in soul, R & B and classic rock influences - even when it is close to Living Colour's sound, it's far softer (the swaying "Lowball Express," with 70s-style vibes, sax, electric piano, and even a talkbox guitar effect).
Lord and assorted players often have co-writes, and Lord fashioned "Do You First, Then Do Myself" alone; but Glover has a clear stamp on everything and delivers some extraordinary vocals - witness his drop-dead perfect Al Green imitation on the brilliant, bombastically orchestrated Green tribute "Little Girl."
There are some dull, excessively retro stretches (the honking big-band Chicago blues "Things Are Getting In The Way"; the primitive, mid-tempo funk groove "Sidewalk Angel," with a cheesy trombone line).
But this is more than balanced by the high points, some of them spotlighting Michael Ciro's ecstatic rock guitar solos: a couple of soaring, dramatic orchestrated anthems ("April Wine"; "One," with a Calhoun guest shot); Stevie Wonder knockoffs like the tension-building R & B tour de force "Hot-Buttered Soul," and the sleek and sexy ballad "Only Time Will Tell" (complete with sitar and a clever string arrangement by Joe Mardin); a hyper-charged gospel-funk-rock hybrid ("Sermon"); a tasteful, acoustic 3/4 jazz-pop tune a la Van Morrison ("Silence"); and especially the frenetic, gut-spilling "Do You First, Then Do Myself."
The band is Dennis Diamond (guitar), Michael McCoy (keyboards), Booker King (bass), Gary Fritz (percussion), and Howard Alper (drums), with Lord and Smith adding incidental instrumentation; Babyface and L.A. Reid get exec production credits. (JA)
Front End Lifter (Yohimbe Brothers: 2002)
I wish I hadn't slammed Mistaken Identity so hard, because this collection of insipid trance makes that record seem like Songs In The
Freakin' Key Of Life.
Reid collaborating with DJ Logic, and his collaborations are mostly limited to "effects," which means "making my guitar sound like wind chimes":
he plays recognizably only on "Psychopathia Mojosexualis."
Logic does most of the lifting here, and all he's got in his bag of tricks is ordinary drum loops, lame bass lines, and crowd noise. Oh,
and more punning titles ("Tenemental," "Prelude To A Diss"). Not that every track sounds the same: they fail in different ways, from the
mind-numbing dub reggae "The Big Pill" to the would-be country-funk "Bamalamb" to the largely spoken "6996-Club-Yohimbe."
A bunch of guests including inconsequential appearances by Calhoun, Glover and Wimbish (separately).
Did I really think the band was going to return to its late 80s form, or am I just a masochist? Either way, my anticipation
turned to disappointment as soon as this harsh, unpleasant disc started spinning.
Covers are usually a sign of a band with nothing to say - live albums excepted - so I should have been tipped off by the
presence of "Back In Black" (done just like the original) and "Tomorrow Never Knows"
(smothered in guitar synth). Most of the songs are overly simple metal riffs tarted up with production gimmicks - "Song Without Sin" is a thudding
chromatic line that dissolves mid-song into tabla-backed raga; "A ? Of When" is a jagged lick overlaid with random scratching -
and way too many tracks have vocals that sounds like they've been put through the garbage disposal ("Great Expectation").
Lyrically, it's mostly clumsy political diatribes ("Operation: Mind Control"), and the love songs are equally dour ("Nightmare City").
The high points, relatively speaking, are the bluesy "Holy Roller," with an amusing guitar solo; "Flying," with tight
funk bass and a touch of lightness recalling old cuts like "Solace Of You"; and the album's one moderately catchy song,
"Sacred Ground." Self-produced.
Living Colour's first serious studio effort after a decade, with Wimbish on bass again.
I'm not holding out much hope for it based on what I heard at a 2003 concert. (JA)
Known Unknown (Vernon Reid & Masque: 2004)
All instrumental and mostly fusion or straight jazz - just to drive the point home, there are short, snappy versions of standards by
Monk (a race through "Brilliant Corners") and Lee Morgan ("Sidewinder," what else?).
The band is Marlon Browden (drums), Leon Gruebaum (keys) and Hank Schroy (undermixed bass) - DJ Logic on "Voodoo
Pimp Stroll" is the only guest - and while they
each get their solos, most of the space is reserved for the leader, but unless you're a huge whammy-bar fan you'll probably
end up wishing he had a bit more in his bag of tricks. And too many tunes are unstructured, either one-theme doodles
("Down And Out In Kigali And Freetown") or alternating at random between
a blah A section and a blaher B section ("The Slouch").
That said, Reid does get in some brilliant melodic playing ("X The Unknown"), and the material covers a lot of ground,
from pure blues ("Time") to an organ-drenched funk groove (title track, with Reid contributing tasty wah'd rhythm).
And at least he didn't subject us to any bad puns or skits this time out.
The Tao Of Yo (Yohimbe Brothers: 2004)
I wasn't expecting much after the last Yohimbe effort, but I'm glad I gambled $5 on this.
Reid with DJ Logic again, but Goodandevil (Christian Castagno and Danny Blume) produced, and I suspect they were involved in keeping the project more focused and melodic. There's no empty electronica this time: instead, they tackle everything from jazz ("Unimportance," with Deantoni Parks on trap drums) to
rock en español ("No Pistolas," with a groovy Santanaesque solo).
Whatever the style, guitars are refreshingly audible, with Gipsy Kings-style acoustic ("Noh Rio"), heavy repeating riffs ("The Secret Frequency"), and some soloing ("More From Life," an enjoyable hip hop track with de rigeur Bush-bashing from rapper Traz).
Despite all the genre-jumping, though, the best cut is probably the one which sounds the most like Living Colour ("TV" - actually, with its jackhammer hook and yelled ironic chorus, it sounds like Living Colour meets Run-D.M.C.).
Jared Nickerson adds bass to three tracks, and Graham Haynes plays cornet on two; vocalists - Latasha Nevada Diggs, Shantyman - and percussionists also pop up here and there.
Also in 2004, Reid donated a track to a Hendrix tribute album.
Other True Self (Vernon Reid & Masque: 2006)
Nearly the same lineup as Known Unknown (Don McKenzie replaces Browden on drums), but instead of sticking to jazz, Reid hits a passel of styles: reggae ("Flatbush And Church Revisited"), rock ("Game Is Rigged"), mellow Afro-pop ("Prof. Bebey").
Whatever the genre, though, the tempos are deliberate and the production is stark, creating a stifling, oppressive atmosphere.
Increasing the annoyance factor, Reid sticks with the same ugly, grungy tone on nearly every track.
He does occasionally bust out a headbanging riff ("Mind Of My Mind"; "Afrerika") or remarkable scattershot solo ("G") that reminds you why you picked up the record in the first place, but by then you'll probably have a headache.
All originals, mostly by Reid though Gruenbaum ("Whiteface") and McKenzie ("Kizzy") get one track each, except for the traditional "Oxossi" and covers of Tony Williams's "Wildlife" and Radiohead's painfully repetitive "National Anthem."
No guests; produced by Reid.
The Chair In The Doorway (2009)
Radically enough, a perfectly conventional rock and roll record. There are brief flirtations with low-end metal ("Out Of My Mind") and some homage (the strikingly Neilified "That's What You Taught Me"; Delta blues sliding on "Bless Those (Little Annie's Prayer)"). Mostly, though, it's arena rock with sing-along choruses ("Behind The Sun," with a disco beat) and finger-along solos ("DecaDance"). The jokes are moderately amusing ("Asshole"), the vamps are somewhat hypnotic ("Not Tomorrow"), and nothing really compels repeat listening. So it's palatable but mild ("Method"), and if that doesn't sound like much of a recommendation, well, it isn't, but it's much more enjoyable than their previous effort.