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Music Review: Living Colour – The Chair in the Doorway

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In 1989, I was just starting college and Living Colour's Vivid hit the airwaves. To this day, when I hear "Cult of Personality" on the radio, I have to crank it up. There's something about the mix of funk, metal, and socially-conscious lyrics that hasn't lost its punch even two decades later.

But after Vivid, I have to say I lost touch with Living Colour. So when I saw that The Chair in the Doorway was to be released, I was a bit surprised, but happy — a bit like finding a long, lost friend after a good chunk of time has passed. They sound just as good as they did 20 years ago and rock just as hard.

The band consists of Corey Glover on guitars and vocals, Vernon Reid on lead guitar, Doug Wimbish on bass, and Will Calhoun on drums. Though Vivid was recorded with bassist Muzz Skillings, who left the band in 1992 and was replaced by Doug Wimbish, the sound hasn't changed, at least to me. They all have amazing musical chops and the ability to create riffs that are easy to lose yourself in.

It wasn't until I started really listening to the lyrics that I began to wonder at the direction of the album. In the CD booklet reads a very simple dedication: "This record is dedicated to the fallen & the lost among us." And in this time of doubt, economic, and environmental troubles, it's interesting to hear songs of those of us lost along this very rocky road.

Though I tend to consider myself an optimistic realist while having my own moments of hopelessness in the chaos of living as we all do, I have to wonder if Living Colour has swung the pendulum too far. Though the music holds the same amazing, funky beats and screaming guitars as they did in the late '80s, the lyrics have slipped over the edge of the socially consciousness into a pit of despair.

Starting with "Burned Bridges," the lost and the soon-to-be lost take center stage:

I've done things to myself
That I cannot forgive
I've given up everything
Just so that I could live
I searched the whole world over
For the thing I cannot find
No one cares about my thoughts
So I guess I'll lose my mind

Where is the hope here? There must be help for the helpless or the goodness of man has failed us one final time.

In "Method," things are equally as bleak: "Hell is frozen / Crashing dreams / Cities imploding / World unseen." Here again is the unraveling of our environment as we just don't give a damn. "Don't you know / The damned don't cry?" Is our world really this far gone?

And then in "Out of My Mind," another straw breaks us in this serenade of depression. "I thought I had control / I found I lost my soul / I can't get out of this hole." Hopelessness reigns supreme.

Though I point out the lack of hope in these lyrics, I have to talk about the other side of the equation. Yes, they're depressing, but the music—this fusion of jazz, rock, reggae, and passion—almost made me not hear the sadness. These guys have arranged some simply amazing, hard-rocking tunes that keep you tapping your toes as your mind tries to assimilate the meaning behind the words.

I don't know what happened to Living Colour between Vivid and The Chair in the Doorway, but I'm a bit confused. There's a difference between pointing out social iniquities of the world around us while rocking us as they see fit and trying to slip some of this depressing, yet beautiful poetry through the cracks. I can't say I'm not enjoying the album altogether, but it's definitely not the happiest music I've heard in a while.

The interesting thing will be seeing what will get released to the radio as singles in an era of cheery, almost vapid teenage-themed anthems. Perhaps the negativity of this album will cancel out the overwhelming positivity of recent shiny hopeful pop artists and we'll end up somewhere in the happy medium.

Check out The Chair in the Doorway and make your own decision. I'm going to continue to rock out and try to forget the words.

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About Fitz

Fitz is a software engineer and writer who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his family and pets, trying to survive the chaos!
  • Mark B

    I’m waiting to listen to The Chair In The Doorway so while I can’t comment on the music of Living Colour’s latest release I can comment on one review. “Fitz”, the commentator in question asks the question ‘What happened to Living Colour between Vivid (1989) and C.I.T.D (2009)?’

    Well, ‘Fitz’ here’s a little discography for you. Living Colour followed up Vivid with 1990’s ‘Time’s Up’ then in 1993 with ‘Stain’, then in ‘2003’ with Calideoscope. ‘Stain’ (which was the first studio album with Doug Wimbish) pretty much marked the beginning of a dystopian Living Colour (listen to ‘This Is The Life’ at the the end of Time’s Up and juxtapose that with ‘Nothingness’ on Stain and marvel at the disparity.).

    A lot internally and externally happened to LC: There’s the departure of Muzz Skillings but also the loss of a parent (Nothingness is a paen to Will Calhoun’s late father), the time between Stain’s release and Collideoscope saw Corey Glover try his hand as a VH-1 VeeJay, a solo release all with some success. Vernon Reid had his project Masque on the Favored Nations label, Will Callhoun, Wimbish and vocalist Vinx had a project and album called Jungle Funk in 1999. Then of course, there was the state of the world in September 2001.

    The addition of Doug Wimbish has added to Living Colour’s sonic palette. Wimbish, a studio and effects wizard, has a markedly darker, other worldly sound when compared to Skillings.

    Of course, this is just my perspective but behind the shredding, the dense sonics, the yelps and the screams and the wails, these are musicians who aren’t afraid to look into the abyss.

  • http://writer.fitzhome.com Fitz

    @Mark B – I can definitely appreciate the abyss. I’ve spent time there now and again like most of us have. I do not dispute that these guys are AMAZING musicians. I was just hoping for a bit more “hope” amidst the depression.

    Thanks for filling in the blanks a bit!

  • Sam

    I just bought the new album today and i’ve gotta say i love it when an artist doesnt fray away from expressing the downs of life. It’s human after all, and music is expression, the dark times shouldnt be repressed or ignored, they are some of the most profound moments of our lives, and this album is a terrific account of that in my opinion. Like the human condition has been described as the ‘elephant in the room’, it can only be overcome through embracing the fact that we are only human and will all likely experience the full emotional spectrum throughout our lives. It’s like how people need to talk about stuff when they’re pissed off, upset or whatever.

    On the albums in between vivid and the CITD… wow, that is some incredible music. Stain is probably my favourite album. To me, the first 2 albums were more experimental, and as good as they were (unique and unprecedented), i think stain took the band to a new level. It was their most well rounded, real album, if that makes sense….?

    Stain is amazing on many levels for me, firstly the musicianship is top shelf which is what we’ve come to expect from these guys, the song writing is gospel for a liberal-minded person these days, and there are so many great songs on the album to get into (for example, how artistic is postman? that song still gets my adrenaline going). I must say it took me longer to get into Stain than the other albums, but in retrospect i’m grateful i put the time into it. It’s unique. I cant think of another band that can blend so much colourful and well-balanced grounded music into a heavy rock song.

  • Tony

    Sam,

    Stain was your favorite? Dang…..I thought that album blew beyond belief. I don’t think these guys have put out anything good since Time’s Up, yet I buy every one of their albums. I’ll surely end up buying this one too. I hope I’m not disappointed yet again.

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    There’s nothing wrong with Stain, Sam. Great, great album, it was just a victim of the times like a lot of other albums that fell on the metal side of things.

    While I’m glad to see you enjoy the music, I can’t say I quite understand your angle, Fitz. Living Colour’s music and lyrics have always explored the darker side of everything, so I don’t really understand why you’re surprised that this isn’t “fun.” But don’t take it so seriously. Look at the blues, for example – the subject matter is often quite depressing, yet it’s meant to be a means of catharsis and is often quite rousing (rock bands, IMO, often get the blues very wrong and simply make blues-rock simply depressing.) Living Colour’s music has always sounded to me like a group of guys working out their frustrations and anger through their music.

  • http://writer.fitzhome.com Fitz

    @Tom Johnson – No, there’s a difference between the socially relevant, challenging lyrics of what I remember from Vivid and the staring into the abyss lyrics of CITD. I’m not looking for “fun” lyrics – merely a spark of hope in the darkness. And your comparison to the Blues is a good one here – again, the music is awesome and the subject matter can be dark, but also approach that darkness through humor. I was just hoping for that LC might light candle in the abyss to better see the descent I guess…

    This is a great conversation though. So thanks to all who are participating!

  • Mark B

    Hey Fitz,

    Thanks for the feedback and I’m on the 5th listen of this album and I have to say, there’s hope in there and there’s a little humour too!

    I haven’t been comnpelled to re-listen to an LC album like CITD since Type. BTW, I’ve heard they’re going to be on Jimmy Fallon’s show (whatever its called) 9/22/2009.

    @Tony, I would have to say I found Stain a weak release as well. It was the first Wimbish CD and a clear departure from any thing ‘light’ or ‘up’. But that’s the same CD that gave us Nothingness…

  • John Hedge

    Wow what a great album. Never heard of Living Colour before but now I have heart this in going to check out the other albums i mean this one is so good, 20years this band have been going, how come a band so good gets missed so easly. funny game music. now excuse me while I rock out

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    Having heard the album several times now, I think I understand better where you’re coming from Fitz. I don’t think it’s the lyrics that are lacking in “fun,” however. They seem to me to be pretty much along the same lines as they’ve always done. What’s different is that this album is very stripped-back, straight-ahead rock, whereas they used to do something more playful sounding. Witness all the samples and effects tossed in all over the earlier albums. Even Collideascope has its share of that stuff. Maybe it has a closer cousin in Stain than anything else in their catalog, now that I think about it. That said, I am really enjoying this album a lot, growing to love it more and more each time I listen to it.

  • http://writer.fitzhome.com Fitz

    @Tom Johnson – I absolutely love the music. There’s just something about LC’s flair for constructing rock music that makes me want to turn the volume up. Maybe you’re right about the lack of a playful sense to things for this album. But that said, I have to admit it’s growing on me. :)

  • ze dude

    LC’s records kick in after listening to them a few times…then you just cant get enough…
    bought it yesterday and thought ‘well….’ now i cant stop listening to it…IT IS AMAZING……
    as to the ‘hopelessness’ & ‘depressing lyrics’ mentioned…most of us born in the late 60s or 70s etc feel some melancholy when looking at todays world…come on…dont u miss your teens without the mobiles, the internet, the greed, the decency, those capitalist pushover-cunts???
    i sometimes feel it has to be said what corey’s screaming out there………
    i am a devoted, melancholic optimist and can still say AMAZING RECORD, CULT BAND

    thank you LC

  • http://writer.fitzhome.com Fitz

    @ze dude – The term “melancholic optimist” is a new one for me, but I certainly get the gist. And yes, there is some depression when looking at the world, which can’t help but bleed into the music of the artists living in it. The internet provides me with a way to do what I love with computers, so I can’t agree there – but there is far too much greed in the world on multiple levels for me. That much I agree with. But back to LC. The music is growing on me and that sometimes trumps lyrics. :) Thanks for the thought-provoking comment.