Shade by Living ColourRelease date: September 8, 2017
There are bands that fit perfectly the era they emerged and made their name in by reflecting the social/political climate with a combination of both powerful lyrical and bruising musical intensity. There are many which could be mentioned but the 1967 race riots hit Detroit and MC5, Public Enemy at the time of back to back Republican presidents of Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior in the 1980’s and early 1990’s America are two examples.
In keeping with the latter time-period, New York’s Living Colour are a band who burst onto the scene with a storming debut, Vivid (1988), following up with the politically charged, genre diverse, Time Up (1990. They are also the most commercially successful of the batch of black rock bands that existed in the late 1980s (Fishbone, 24-7 Spy, to name only two), but it was a hard graft for them to get from their CBGB playing beginnings to two time Grammy award winners.
Like the return this year of the Ice T led Body Count, the timing seems appropriate for Living Colour to return. And with new album Shade sees them highlight and reflect on current social issues whether it’s the hardship of debt, the continuation of high profile police brutality cases towards black communities, and the general proliferation of weapons are all still topical realities. While the first year of a highly divisive elected Donald Trump administration provides a new backdrop.
Living Colour have always been about fusing funk, R&B, Hip Hop, Soul, and Punk into a Rock charged synthesis. And Shade sees the band return to the source which indeed R&B, Hip Hop, and Rock, all have roots in and that is the Blues. The three covers on show are fine examples of how the band absorb all these genres fed through a bluesy informed idiosyncratic Living Colour makeover.
They take the Blues back to its most recognisable old, original stylist with Robert Johnson’s ‘Preachin’ Blues’, on towards Marvin Gayle’s ‘Inner City Blues’ from his classic 1970 account of city life hardship ‘What’s going on?’ album, but the most successful is their re-freshed, impassioned cover of Notorious B.I.G’s angry, despairing, statistical shock of the victims of gun related incidents on ‘Who shot ya?’.
Like their afore-mentioned albums’ Shade is also nourished through a similar sharp, crystal clear, modern sounding sheen production (Andre Betts). Corey Glover still sings with a silky soulful swoon and impassioned attack and grit. And fellow Vernon Reid’s singular guitar work injects the blues with his technical prowess and FX injected noise outbursts. While the rhythm section of Will Calhoun on drums and Doug Wimbish provide all the necessary reliable funk and rock groove chops.
From the opening bluesy swaggering ‘Freedom of expression’, rock/soul bouncy rouser ‘Come on’, riffy hard rocker and Rap inserted ‘Program’, to the pumped-up BB King inspired bluesy wall shaker ‘Who’s that?’ and the up-tempo, deep rock groove of ‘Patterns in time’ are all massive proof of lean, resolute song writing and creative riffage.
Shade see Living Colour return refreshed, energised, driven with purpose, and highlights a clear focus of the Blues relevance and importance on many major musical genre development’s through the decades. Yes, it does suffer a bit like their sprawling second album, Time Up, by being a couple of tracks too long, but what Living Colour’s first album in eight years has triggered in this reviewer, is how much I have indeed missed them and how vital and distinctive they are. A welcome return, indeed. It’s just a shame about the social and political mess they have again emerged from but without it there may not be the fired-up, ardent, Living Colour.