Living Colour was a melodic metal band that made quite a splash in 1988 and I was certain back then they were headed straight toward superstardom. Their debut album Vivid not only had the infectious “Cult Of Personality” but then there was the defiant “Open Letter (To A Landlord)” and the cheeky “Glamour Boys.” A quartet bristling with talent like avant-garde guitar virtuoso Vernon Reid and a bonafide charismatic frontman in Corey Glover, their rhythm section was nothing to sneeze at either, with Will Calhoun on drums and Muzz Skillings — eventually replaced by the even better Doug Wimbish — on bass, Living Colour was the band who broke down racial barriers in rock that somehow persisted despite the obvious importance of rock icons like Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone.
Following up with the wild, wide-ranging Time’s Up (still my favorite L.C. record) and the more serious minded Stain, Living Colour called it quits in 1995 before regrouping for 2004’s fringe Collideøscope. Five years later on September 15, the boys came back again with The Chair In The Doorway.
Recorded in Prague, The Chair In The Doorway is their first album for Megaforce Records, the home of Metallica, the Black Crowes and Anthrax and their most straight-ahead heavy album since maybe…ever. That is to say, with only a few exceptions the metal vibe stays the same throughout. Living Colour has always drawn much of their inspiration from East Coast punk-reggae legends Bad Brains (another African-American rock band co-founded by a fusion guitarist), but on Chair the influence might be more up front and center, as are the sounds of their new labelmates.
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Vernon Reid discusses the incendiary fusion collaboration Spectrum Road, how jazz has informed his playing from the start – and bursting onto the scene with Living Colour.]
Living Colour remains at the core a serious-minded band, singing about topical themes with more depth than most rock bands are known to do, even today. But in contrast to the early days where the subjects were confronted directly in first person and without any doubt to their meaning (“Funny Vibe,” “Elvis Is Dead”), the subject matters seem to take a broader critique of today’s society in often oblique ways. And it’s nearly always angry or dark, matching the gloom metal overtones of the music. “Burned Bridges,” The Chair,” “DecaDance,” “Method,””Hard Times,” and “Out Of My Mind” all fall under that formula. The confidence of a “Young Man” is a fascinating reflection coming from guys who aren’t that young anymore.
“Behind The Sun” (see video of a “live in studio” version below) was the album’s advance single, and even with Reid’s fleet-fingered tapping, comes off as the most soulful of the bunch. That’s mainly a product of Glover’s vocals, still powerful and expressive more than twenty years later. “That’s What You Taught Me” likewise is a song with broader appeal, with the metal quotient toned down enough to reveal an arresting melody.
The record ends with a “hidden” track not referred to on the CD sleeve: after the droning, psychedelic blues “No Tomorrow” comes what may be the best track on the whole album, “A**hole,” which reminds us of what Living Colour is capable of when they blend catchy hooks, power riffs and put-down humor into an tight, irresistible package. Too bad the prevalent use of a FCC-defined naughty word is going to keep his one off the radio waves.
That’s an all-to-brief reminder of the fun element that this band was so deft at combining with their “music with a message” stance. Oftentimes, maturity means improvement, but for Living Colour, they could stand to find their inner child more than they did on The Chair In The Doorway.