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Thursday, October 29, 2009

CD Review: Living Colour - The Chair in the Doorway

Living Colour - The Chair in the Doorway
2009 Megaforce Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Though it's nearly cost them a career, you have to admire Living Colour for being true to themselves. This is a band which vaulted to notoriety on the eye-popping blare of social disorder in the late eighties with their legendary rock pounder "Cult of Personality." The subsequent "Glamour Boys" off of Living Colour's reverential debut from 1988 Vivid managed to prolong public interest, while the subsequent release of the snide "Elvis is Dead" and "Type" from the group's next album Time's Up kept them on the daily blip. Still, when you examine the course of Living's Colour's strange but prolific career, you have to make strict note this group has always lived under the temptive muscle of their breakout hit where Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the Kennedys speak and die.

Living Colour has bravely shunned replication over two decades and now five albums. Their adherence to shying away from writing another towering radar beacon like "Cult of Personality" shows a dedication to staying out of the sellout court, yet they have paid a price for their individualism. 1993's Stain is strictly for Living Colour's devout as it remains their fiercest, cloutiest and most venomous album to-date. Consider this point in time their public breakoff despite Stain's ballsy raw power.

Thus to certain latitudes Living Colour, a band once sadly held to the status of novelty when they emerged, have become underground toasts even after a lamentable layoff. The fact Living Colour (who did gain a fair chunk of notice in confusion alongside the Wayans family's landmark comedy-variety show In Living Color) could shred as hard as any of their white metal and rock contemporaries made them dangerous. Was there a Hoover-esque air of market control back then, or did Living Colour piss off too many powerful folks in Graceland?

Whatever the case, the fact remains Living Colour houses four of the most talented musicians the modern age has ever seen. It was a thing of glory to see them return in 2003 with their post 9/11 analysis Collideoscope, even if the masses weren't listening. Six years later following numerous tours and Corey Glover's run as Judas in a traveling troupe for Jesus Christ Superstar, the Living Colour ensemble is back.

Boy, are they back! Dialing in some of their most motivated music since Time's Up and hedged with a refined maturity of elder lions, Living Colour have become self-controlled officers and orchestrators of funk 'n blues-peppered metal. At one time, Living Colour's destiny appeared to be a more cross-cultural shadow of the Bad Brains--and if anyone covers the Brains better than Living Colour, I'd be interested to hear! Yet their latest album The Chair in the Doorway is nearly as confident and swaggering as Vivid and certainly the best-polished they've sounded in ages.

Corey Glover has always provided an energetic though calming vibe through his gospel-tinted vocals, even when screeching for all of his worth as he does on the loud and pumping "Out of My Mind" from The Chair in the Doorway. For this writer, Glover's voice has always been engaging, confrontational when the moment arises, but overall like the cat is sitting next to you and giving a personal oratory. No different here.

Glover gets right into his heart and mind on the opening track "Burned Bridges," a deeply-cut confessional for him and perhaps the band as a whole where he delivers these brilliant lyrics: "toss my keys in the river, now I can't go home again, burned up my phone book, now I have to make a real friend, threw away my watch and wallet, now I have no time to spend, gave up my vices to stop the voices, and now they're back again..."

The torment expressed by Glover on "Burning Bridges" is given musical voice by a reserved, anticipatory build-up following the intro of an ethereal digital beat and haunted bass lines from Doug Wimbish. Vernon Reid plucks out a weave of nervy clean and scraped guitar notes. Even as Will Calhoun steps on the beat, "Burning Bridges" holds its thumb on the trigger, keeping the tune thrumming on a steady minimum until Reid jerks out a nimble-fingered solo which naturally elevates into a shrieking climax. Masterfully-executed.

Living Colour keeps things deep down and dirty on the following song "The Chair," one of their meanest ever. Will Calhoun's lumbering polyrhythm on the verses keeps "The Chair" street tough and wily while Reid pulls out wah-tugged alarm beacons overtop the chorus. All as set up for the truly ferocious "DecaDance," a beastly cut which allows Glover to snarl his accusatory tirade "in the ugliness of beauty, and when pretty is vicious, you thought you were a voyeur, but the irony is the access of excess the pigs are in the trough, you thought you had your fill, but enough is never enough..."

"Young Man" takes on a humorous dance-funk shuffle where Glover calls out mimicking step slides while commenting on the deadened march of society. One of The Chair in the Doorway's finest moments comes with the bumping electro groove humming beneath Living Colour's sly drift on "Method." If this song isn't made to be a Bond theme, then let the folks at MGM take note at once! You're letting a suave sleeper hit for Daniel Craig's next vehicle go utterly wasted...

Reid especially sparkles with Robert Johnson-loving scat and screech on "Bless Those (Little Annie's Prayer)" and "Not Tomorrow," a pair of pure blues jams which operate in very little mimicry of trad blues. "Not Tomorrow" is purely addicting even with its abbreviation, given Calhoun's slippery beat pattern, Wimbish's laid-back finish and Glover's dreamy throat twirls. Reid is comfortable enough to pick away in the background here, while he's the undeniable showcase of "Bless Those (Little Annie's Prayer)."

Few bands actually sound like they give a damn not only after a couple of decades hanging about the business, much less those who have suffered extensive periods of downtime and break-up. In the midst of a more straightword alt rock sway like "That's What You Taught Me," this is a group finally at peace with their multi-faceted identity. Furthermore, for Living Colour to emit such focused thunder all over "Out of My Mind" in 2009 means they're more dangerous now than they ever were...

Rating: ****


Dan, aka, Johnny Knowsalot said...

Stain was '93, not '83.

Dan, aka, Johnny Knowsalot said...

...but a great review, regardless! Way to sum them up. Caught them at Johnny D's in Boston last month and they killed. Tremendous show.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

thanks for the good eyes, my friend...I totally meant to make it '93 since I remember the original HBB running vids from Stain and ending its (HBB) run not too long thereafter...guilty of a typo and hurried editing....thanks for the nice words, though...I'm scheduled to interview Corey on Sunday and should be catching them in an abbreviated set in DC, so I'm stoked...haven't seem them live since 1990...ought to be killer

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