Living Colour is a legendary band at this point, and it is a big loss for anyone who sleeps on or underestimates their latest release Shade. Musical proficiency has always been a hallmark of the popular group, but the songwriting is even stronger than the tricky and stylish guitar licks and bass runs. Golden-throated vocalist Corey Glover, like the late Ronnie James Dio or, say, Jill Janus of heavy metal band Huntress, often sounds like he could roll out of bed and still belt out a perfectly rocking and on point soulful blast to thousands of people. There is also, like sometimes peers Jane’s Addiction or Pearl Jam, a sense of melody present in the songs that adds a range of emotion rock bands strictly looking to be the darkest or edgiest on the block often miss out on. You can have a range of feelings from any Living Colour record and come away truly rocked no matter the flavor that appeals to you most.
Vernon Reid shred fans will still be blown away by the handsome application of searing solos peppered throughout the latest banger of an album. There is a reason Reid was once nerded out over by Guitar Center geeks with the same level of respect they have for the great Marty Friedman or Steve Vai.
Frankly, Shade sounds like the band is still ruling the world, such is their confidence and skill level here. It might not be 1989 when Living Colour was big enough Reid could criticize Axl Rose for slurs in “One in a Million”, and it would be major news (especially with the Guns reunion tour making so much money that if it happened now in Trump USA the fickle and fake ass industry would work really hard to make people forget about it fast), but Living Colour still swing for the fences and mostly hit home runs with each track on the new release, even if Mick Jagger doesn’t sing (back-up!!) vocals on this one like Time’s Up .
“Come On” almost combines Prince’s futuristic streetwise funk rock with the hard rock glory at which Living Colour always has excelled. The bass from Doug Wimbish on “Come On” in particular is subtly commanding, though it is kind of Vernon’s number for the most part.
It is frankly dope to hear such heavy funk influence that doesn’t suck in some hard rock again. I came up in the early ‘90s in the Woodstock area and everyone loved Living Colour, Faith No More and the Chili Peppers, with many great mostly unheralded bands like La Vista Hotheads or Lunch Meat (RIP Jason Foster) drinking from this band’s well of groove and grace but only Three and the Beautiful Bastards still kind of playing that style in my local scene in 2017.
Living Colour still politics with the best of them. Nathan Gray of the excellent melodic hardcore band Boysetsfire posted “Cult of Personality” on his Facebook page the other day and I mentioned to him how much ,“I exploit you / Still you love me” resonates in this day and age of MAGA morons lapping up every shit shake con artist Trump dumps on their heads. Shade finds equal power in the Biggie cover “Who Shot Ya?” in protest of ongoing gun violence and racial profiling, a fiery but more hopeful rendition that reminds black people are to thank for rock AND rap and should, of course, lay claim to both. White people, we may have done great things in the genres as well as time, but we are still guests so stop peacocking like you own the place.
Living Colour remains one of the truly greatest untarnished alt rock bands of all time and is only getting better with age. Meanwhile, the Smashing Pumpkins legacy has been damaged mightily by one time sensitive cool astrology shoegaze grunge genius Billy Corgan losing his mind and false equating social justice movements with the KKK way before Trump’s bullshit “both sides” post-Charlottesville rhetoric got centrist Dems shilling and bad mouthing Antifascism even as Arpaio got pardoned for American concentration camps and making women give labor in handcuffs. Living Colour is not going to punch fans in the gut like that.
The big rock merged with fusion sound lives on but also the blues are a major thread on this record, albeit amidst totally stomping bangers like “Program” that cut through brainwashing. I wish they had included their recent Chris Cornell tribute version of Soundgarden’s “Blow Up The Outside World”, but it is a small gripe. “Always Wrong” has such a hooky and moving chorus and the band include enough thrills on the record that even short attention span types will want to wait for each revelation on the record to unfold.
In a day and age when bands are more often writing songs for consideration in commercial placement, Living Colour still deliver meaningful art. Each single or the whole album nourishes and gets you going and this should be on many a year end list in a sober society. There is even a cover of “Inner City Blues” by Marvin Gaye that would be incredible to get back into the national conversation if it was a hit. The band ultimately set it on fire and make it their own while honoring the original’s smooth groove but sharp social commentary.
It is great to see Megaforce pushing this release, though it is certainly questionable for the same label to also be selling a new MOD record (a band who once wrote a song called “A.I.D.S. (Anally Inflicted Death Sentence)”. What the fuck, yo?
Anyway, Living Colour are still where it’s at in 2017, and it is pretty obvious I love this new album and so should you. Huge thanks to this band for still making music that matters and being good people.
// Notes from the Road
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