The fourth track on Living Colour’s new Shade album, Program, begins with a sample of rapper Scarface humming the tune of LC’s huge hit Cult of Personality during a media interview where he’s pressed to remember the band’s name.
When told, he exclaims, “Living Colour! Right! Name me another black rock band?” The interviewer offers Fishbone as another example and Scarface arcs up, “Find me another black rock band seriously!”
A lot of people have forgotten Living Colour. It has been eight years since their last album, The Chair in The Doorway. Many non-hardcore fans haven’t realised that they eventually reformed after disbanding following their third album, Stain, in the mid-’90s.
They were hugely popular for a few short years from 1988 to 1993 with the hits Cult of Personality and Love Rears Its Ugly Head. The band, along with Faith No More and Red Hot Chili Peppers rescued hard rock from terrible ’80s metal and loosened listeners up for Nirvana and the grunge explosion.
Program itself is a fierce rocker which continues the Living Colour tradition of pointing the finger at the media. The lyrics offer a view of the zeitgeist: “Where living like we’re programmed … like TV’s our reality”.
In recent interviews, Living Colour has said this album was driven by the experience of covering Robert Johnson’s Preachin’ Blues at a live event few years earlier. They found it so profound they decided to record an album of their own take on the blues.
Living Colour’s hard rock-based sound does of course derive from the blues and they have delivered overt blues before in Bless Those from The Chair in The Doorway. While there is a lot of blues on this new album, it is still very much a Living Colour album with a hard rock base – the frenetic Pattern in Time and the heavy Glass Teeth are cases in point.
Preachin’ Blues is included on the album as well as a cover of Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues and a rocked-up version of Notorious B.I.G’s Who Shot Ya? which is reworked as a comment on gun violence in America.
Living Colour’s own blues composition is the opening track, Freedom of Expression featuring slide guitar. Blak Out begins with a funky bass line with blues overtones which is then sandwiched between some heavy guitar chug. Who’s That? is classic blues rock in every sense of the word. It’s a 12 bar guitar workout with added trumpet and classic blues lyrics; singer Corey Glover riffs on his state of anxiety with debt collectors, who “got me so worried, all I do is pace the floor”.
Shade‘s only weaknesses are Come On and the flaccid Always Wrong in what is otherwise a very impressive album.