On September 8, New York hard rock legends Living Colour released their sixth studio full-length, Shade. Fans have been excited about the new release since the summer when previews of cuts like the spirited “Come On” and the slick, groovy riff rocker “Program” became available online. Now that the full 13-track LP is out, they should have no reason to lessen their enthusiasm. LC usually never disappoints, and 30 years into its career, the New York rock legends aren’t about to pack it in now.
If you know anything about Living Colour, you know three things. Vernon Reid is their fiery lead guitarist, Corey Glover is their (criminally underrated) lead singer, and that this is an African-American heavy rock band which had massive commercial success in the late ’80s and early ’90s. This feat was as rare as it was inspiring, at least here in America, when mostly white hair/heavy metal bands ruled the rock/pop charts and air waves. You also know that this group takes its time crafting their records. Just five other studio LPs exist, starting with 1988 classic Vivid, home to their most enduring hit, “Cult of Personality.” Time’s Up (1990) and Stain (1993) followed suit and became beloved LPs as well. Shade is their first studio effort in eight years, following The Chair in the Doorway. Here are some of the highlights.
Living Colour has never shied away from talking about the ills of society (and even war, as on 2003’s Collideoscope) through their music. The funked-up hard rocker “Program” exemplifies this point. Its message is that reality is not what you see on TV/major media. It is instersped with media clips, including Hillary Clinton saying, “We are in an information war and we are losing that war…” that are timely in this current era of fighting “fake news.” Living Colour’s sense of humor is also on display, with a funny interview clip of rapper Scarface opening this killer cut.
The slide guitar, horns (courtesy of Dirty Dozen Brass Band trombonist Big Sam Williams), and organ solos that power up blues rocker “Who’s That” and the chunky metal riffs of “Glass Teeth” are essential listening for anyone who just loves some good ole goddamn loud rock and roll. “Blak Out,” on the other hand, has the makings of a lively, funky blues-inspired number about dealing with personal struggles (identity crisis). But before you know it, the tune is over – it ends just before the 2:30 mark. Thus, it’s a bit underdeveloped. Other than that, the only other (slight) disappointment on here is “Come On,” which could’ve used a better, less generic chorus and less studio trickery.
The biggest change about LC on this new album is the bluesy edge that Reid, Glover, Will Calhoun, and Doug Wimbish bring to their sound. Tunes like “Who’s That,” the Robert Johnson cover “Preachin’ Blues,” and their version of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” feel fresh and vital. Moreover, Glover’s singing in top form throughout the album, showing no loss whatsoever in tonal quality of his aching or angry vocals. Reid too has not lost any firepower in his guitar chops, which can be wild one minute, then colorfully jazzy or bluesy the next.
By any means, Shade is an impressive achievement that few bands 30+ years into their career could ever hope to attain. It may not replace their classic releases, but it absolutely belongs right next to them.
Shade is out now via Megaforce Records.