Living Colour have always been special. Starting in 1984, they burst in to public consciousness with the success of the album ‘Vivid’ and the single, ‘Cult of Personality’. Typified as a hard rock band because of Vernon Reid’s incendiary guitar playing, they’ve always been a lot more, with diverse influences from funk, jazz and blues.
Their new album, ‘Shade‘, starts off with a bang, lead track ‘Freedom of Expression’ boasting a muscular, serpentine riff that is classic Living Colour.
Straight up rock songs like ‘Come On’, with it’s big chorus that just begs for a live sing along, rub shoulders with the funk guitar stylings of ‘Always Wrong’, and the off the wall cover of ‘Son House’ Preachin’ Blues‘. This is a classic Living Color album, no two songs sounding the same, genre hopping and musical diversity is the order of the day.
Living Colour have never shied away from expressing their politics, and this album continues in that vein. ‘Who Shot Ya‘ starts with a spoken word piece about the rate of gun death for African American men. ‘Pattern in Time‘ is talking about then links between institutions like slavery in the past, and disadvantage today.
Living Colour’s bassist since 1992 has been Doug Wimbish. He’s also credited with ‘programming’. Long time drummer, Will Calhoun’ is also credited with ‘samples’ and ‘loops’. It’s not obtrusive, but you can often hear splashes of colour from the addition of loops and effects and it’s another way that the band shows a diversity of influences and adds depth to their music.
‘Who’s That‘ starts with slide guitar before a section that sounds like a trombone or sax, before leading in to a riffy rock song complete with horn section. The song is about bill collectors and trying to make ends meet. According to the Setlist Wiki, this song was debuted live in 2014, and is currently a feature of their live show. It’s a really strong song, with prominent organ sections and a searing blues based solo. The song ends with lead breaks shared by the sax and the organ.
From the sounds of a street preacher to the almost Prince styled lyrics to the searing guitars, ‘Inner City Blues’ is a tour de force of all the strengths that this band has. As the track rolls in to the final track, ‘Two Sides‘, you realise the breadth of the journey you’ve just been taken on. This track is the only ballad on the album, and it’s full of passion and power. The one/two hit of these two tracks brings the album to a powerful conclusion.
Songs like ‘Glass Teeth‘ show that Living Colour know how to write a straight up rock song. It’s just obvious that their palette is broader than that and they have a lot more than that to say. If you’re really just a fan of rock music, they there’s probably a few songs on this album you will love. If you love being taken on a journey and being surprised, then this whole album is for you. This album hops genres more often than some bands change chords. There is, however, not a bad song on this CD.