Standing on top of a wooden train, bellowing “We are the children of concrete and steeeeeeel….”. We’ve all done that, right?
Ahhh the early 90’s was a great time for heavy music. Whatever your poison there was something for everyone. Kurt and his cardigans, Metallica and their love song, Kiss and their return to Destroyer sound (although they touted that for at least 4 other albums)….. yes twas a glorious time. For me, I was developing my lifelong love for the stylings of four New Yorkers who managed to combine metal, jazz, blues, reggae, funk, soul and just about everything else in one pot. As with most of the music I embraced in my formative years, I’m fairly certain that Living Colour came via a friend’s older brother. My memory is hazy as to the specifics, but I do remember a handful of things….
Firstly hearing the intro to ‘Information Overload’ and being told that the noise I was hearing was done by a guitar. Not being sure whether I was having my leg pulled, I didn’t really believe it until I saw a snippet of the studio sessions in the home video, ‘Time Tunnel’:
Secondly, borrowing the vinyl of the album from Cardiff Central Library, back in the days when not only were there were libraries but they also loaned out records. Madness, I tell you!! I remember getting it home and putting it on the turntable and just being captivated. I recorded it to cassette (Remember kids: Home taping is killing music) and when I took the record back I made sure I took a photocopy of the inner sleeve with the lyrics on. Which leads me to…..
Lastly, behind my parent’s house is a field. A large one. It’s bordered on two sides by houses, one side is allotments and the last one is a train track. I spent hours over here as a kid: playing football, jumping BMXs off home-made ramps, wrestling, playing fox and hounds.. and hanging out at the adventure playground. At some point, in the late 80’s I think, Cardiff City council decided that what this field needed was a playground containing various things, like huge slides, sand pits and a MASSIVE wooden train. This thing had two carriages and an engine… it was great, if you were 5 but for the rest of us, it just meant climbing on the roof and sitting there. Probably spitting a lot, cos that’s what you need to do to be cool. And what of the album?
Music is not an art form as much as it is, a means of communication….
We open with the frenetic title track that features some fantastic playing particularly from drummer Will Calhoun in the guitar solo section. It’s a punk rock thrasher of song interspersed with a bit of funk and soul. ‘Pride’, with its melodic groove and rhythm begins what is, lyrically, a hugely social/political album lyrically, its lyrics dealing with racism and discrimination. It’s a hugely catchy tune and should have been a single. It’s preceded by a musical montage which has my second favourite sentences/quotes about music (see above). We slip into a wonderfully slinky soul/blues jam with ‘Love Rears It’s Ugly Head’, a song so far away from the album opener they’re in different time zones. ‘New Jack Theme’ and ‘Someone Like You’ cast their eyes over gang culture and injustice respectively, the band employing the same technique on the latter as they did with ‘Pride’ it’s a melodic chugging riff with some angry emotions laid on top. In a move that was about 10 years ahead of its time, ‘Elvis Is Dead’ deals with the cult of fame and celebrity. Side One closes up with ‘Type’ and I defy anyone to not nod their head in time with the song. It’s obvious why this was picked as one of the singles. I mean….. it got me singing the song in a park…. catchy! My only criticism is that I find the snare to be a bit too loud in the mix.
Side Two begins with a cascades of squeals from Vernon Reid on ‘Information Overload’ designed to mimic and evoke the idea of data transference and, for me, the old 56k modems. Again, Corey Glover is a decade earlier with the idea of society being overrun with technology and the isolation that brings. This song has never been more relevant than in 2015, (the irony of me championing this song, a resistance to technology, on a blog is not lost). The rising awareness of AIDS and sexual health informs ‘Under The Cover of Darkness’ even if the band do their best to make you dance whilst listening. ‘Fight The Fight’ is the counterpart song to ‘Pride’ dealing with racial inequality, Corey Glover insisting that you “have to know what you’re fighting for”. The only (at least, outwardly) love song on the album, the reggae/calypso flavoured ‘Solace Of You’ adding a nice break musically. It’s probably the only song on the album that I would skip, simply because the song after it is one of my favs. Said song ‘This Is The Life’, deals with the concept of wishing you had another life, one where you are funnier or stronger or drive a better car but, ultimately, THIS is the life you have so live it, that the other life is just as negative as the present one, so do what you can to live in this life, in this moment. It has a particular resonance for me and is my stand out track on the album.
This is still an album I go to on a regular basis. Musically, it still sounds fresh and contemporary. Lyrically, it’s never been more relevant, with its themes of drowning in technology, race, gang culture and celebrity. He really was ahead of his time that Corey Glover. Looking back at the videos from that period, there’s certainly a….ummmm “vibrancy” in terms of the fashion. But it was the early 90s, we’ll allow it. After all, just over a year later Mr Cobain would make ripped jeans and cardigans de rigueur so let’s enjoy all the Body Glove while it lasted. Living Colour somehow managed to straddle the world of rock, metal, jazz, prog…. you name it, they did it. Later albums would see them embracing electronica and pushing even more sonic boundaries. In terms of consistency, this is the best album from their catalogue, musically and lyrically it’s fantastic and still stands up 24 years later. If you’ve not heard it, what are you waiting for?