For those of you who don’t or can’t remember, Living Colour was one of the only diverse hard rock bands in the ’80s. They made a name for themselves playing clubs in New York, most notably CBGB’s. With some help from Mick Jagger, the band scored a record deal and even won some Grammy awards for “Cult of Personality” off 1988’s Vivid, one of the best hard rock albums of the ’80s.
Long story short: The band’s two follow-up records didn’t do as well, and the quartet called it quits in 1995. After six years of solo albums and less-than-blockbuster acting careers, the quartet headed out on tour together in 2001. And their first post-break release, CollideOscope, brings good news for Living Colour fans: despite the six-year break, the band’s sound hasn’t changed too much.
Living Colour still plays mid-tempo hard rock with chunky, distorted guitar riffs over funky drumbeats, and on CollideOscope, they haven’t deviated too much from the formula that won them attention in the ’80s and would later influence bands such as Rage Against the Machine. “Cult of Personality” is still one of their best-known — and best — songs, featuring a lick by guitarist Vernon Reid that’s almost as recognizable as Slash’s in “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” But this time, the band isn’t out to create another Vivid.
That is to say, CollideOscope is Living Colour’s most experimental record. Occasionally the sound becomes jazzy, as Reid — a member of Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Ornette Coleman-inspired jazz outfit, the Decoding Society, before forming Living Colour — lets his guitar wander over the steady drums and rhythmic bass. They aren’t stuck entirely in the ’80s rock sound; the band accomplishes some progression of their music through well-placed samples, and electronic drum loops that morph into drum and bass breaks.
Just as when he sang about the dark side of politics in “Cult of Personality,” Corey Glover’s lyrics are are socially and politically conscious and filled with angst on CollideOscope. The message is less clear, though. He’s clearly upset about something, but what exactly, and what’s to be done about it? Glover focuses specifically on the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in “Flying,” a somewhat disturbing first-person account of what it would have been like to be in the towers when the plane hit. His vocals, combined with the funky, heavy rock riffs, recall Bad Brains, a clear influence of Living Colour. Glover actually sounds like Bad Brain’s singer HR on most tracks.
The use of electronics on Collidescope combined with the hard rock sound is a welcomed change. Still, their sound hasn’t changed enough to really earn them any new fans. The record has a somewhat empty feeling, like something’s missing, and most of the guitar licks are basic and predictable. The tracks are arranged in a strange order, with a “Back in Black” cover right in the middle. Their sound has progressed a bit, but if you’ve heard Living Colour in the past and didn’t like it, don’t plan on liking this one.