Sunday, August 30, 2009
Living Colour seemed destined for recognition from the moment they first caught the eye of Mick Jagger in 1986 while performing at New York's legendary CBGB. The Rolling Stones frontman produced an early demo that helped the fledgling rockers land a record deal.
Singer Corey Glover, guitarist Vernon Reid, drummer Will Calhoun and original bassist Muzz Skillings released their 1988 Vivid debut to immediate success and eventual double-platinum sales. Their unique sound took a heavy metal framework and injected it with elements of art rock and avant-garde jazz that belied their bohemian New York roots.
If Michael Jackson broke the color barrier on MTV, it was Living Colour that fully integrated African-Americans into the white-dominated heavy metal scene. Groundbreaking videos for "Cult of Personality," "Glamour Boys" and other Vivid hits helped the band connect with a multicultural hard rock audience in a way few black rockers have since Jimi Hendrix.
Time's Up, 1990's sophomore effort, was critically praised though less commercially successful. A third effort, 1993's Stain, found bassist Doug Wimbish replacing Skillings. However, the album got lost in the wave of grunge rock and the band soon parted ways.
A comeback album titled Collideoscope arrived in 2003, but was followed by another down period as each member pursued different creative directions. Glover's path included a two-year stint from 2006-2008 as Judas in a touring production of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar.
"I loved doing Superstar. It was one of the best times I've had in a very long time," the singer admits. "It actually sort of spurred me on to want to make another Living Colour record because I enjoyed being on the road so much…[and] it made me really enjoy singing again."
Now the band's studio silence has been broken again with a new album, The Chair in the Doorway. According to Glover, it was Wimbish who played a key role in culling songwriting ideas from rehearsal tapes, soundboard recordings and the occasional studio session. His efforts helped lay the groundwork for the Chair recording sessions at Sono Studios in the Czech Republic.
"[Living Colour] had been on the road in Europe for a month and a half and we had a two-week break in between," Glover recalls. "And we said, 'OK, let's go into the studio and put down all these grooves [that Wimbish collected.]' A bunch of songs came out of it. That's how we knew we were ready to make an album."
Chair spans the gamut of sounds from heavy rockers like "Burned Bridges" and "DecaDance" to the slide blues-meets-modern rock vibe of "Bless Those."
"Behind the Sun," the CD's first single, opens with a fleet-fingered riff that ranks as one of Reid's most impassioned displays of fretboard wizardry in the entire Living Colour catalog. The song also suggests a sonic progression to U2 territory with spacious Brian Eno-like production work.
The single's lyrics—-a statement about human resilience after 2005's Hurricane Katrina—-were precipitated by Glover's travels to New Orleans with an activist group called NY2NO. The student-led organization arranges for groups of New York City teens to volunteer in the Crescent City.
"It's been four years since Katrina and people are still not home. There are still abandoned buildings, there are still [empty] lots," he says. "Despite whatever you want to say about how tragic it was and what missteps were made, people were still living. Life still went on."
Of course, Living Colour are no strangers to making thought-provoking music. Their 1989 hit "Cult of Personality" offered a pointed statement about media manipulation set to a head-banging soundtrack, and it earned the band their first Grammy for Best Hard Rock performance. In 2007, the group re-recorded this signature tune for Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.
The challenge that now lies ahead of Living Colour is striking a balance between old favorites and new material during their current North American tour.
"We're primarily a live band," Glover says. "A recording is just a moment in time. If you want to see how it evolved and where it went and where it is going, come see us live. Then go home, listen to the record and hear how it's changed. And know that we're going to come back and it's going to change from there."