Welcome to the latest album by album challenge! For those that are new here, the “Album by Album Challenge” is where I take a band’s entire discography and listen to every album in order of release from front to back. With my unforgiving and well-aged ear, I call it how I hear it. In some cases, I find that what I once thought was good is actually pretty crappy and sometimes crap manages to age into something pretty kick ass. And in some cases, face melting is still just good ol’ face melting.
This time around I’m diving into the Living Colour studio discography. I was a huge fan of the band’s first couple of albums but my interest and knowledge of them pretty much stopped after the Time’s Up tour. The band has only released a handful of albums and listening to these albums was both interesting, enjoyable, and painful. What do I mean by this? Read on and you’ll see. Ok, folks… DISCUSS!
Release Date: May 3, 1988
The Good: Cult of Personality, Middle Man, Desperate People, Open Letter to a Landlord, Funny Vibe, Memories Can’t Wait, Broken Hearts, What’s Your Favorite Color, Which Way to America
The Bad: I Want to Know,
The Indifferent: Glamour Boys
I was in 9th grade when this album came out and I can remember it making a really huge impression on me. It was such a different take on heavy metal music and it was like a breath of fresh air. Twenty some odd years later, I still have a hard time describing this album other than to say it’s politically charged, socially conscious metal music with a heavy funk vibe. In a nutshell, it’s a non douche version of Rage Against the Machine with a guy who can actually play the guitar.
The kick off song is one we all know but the rest of this album is so full of win it’s insane. The only real stinker on this album is “I Want to Know” and while I used to hate “Glamour Boys”, listening to these lyrics now I totally get the stab at the disposable pop/glam metal acts of the time. Still don’t love it though. “Open Letter to a Landlord” gives me chills and in this time of gentrification of old inner city neighborhoods, this song still holds true. “Funny Vibe” is hands down one of the coolest fucking songs and it’s one I don’t remember loving as much as I did. Vivid is such a fun album to re-visit and like any great written music, the lyrics are timeless and unfortunately still ring true in this day and age.
Release Date: August 20, 1990
The Good: Time’s Up, Pride, Love Rears Its Ugly Head, New Jack Theme, Someone Like You, Elvis is Dead, Type, Information Overload, Fight the Fight
The Indifferent: Under Cover of Darkness
The opening title track is such a facemelter. I love how it goes from this NYC CBGB’s punk to this groovetastic metal jam. One of the things that struck me the most was that this is a really dark album. While Vivid was a bit more on the “up” side of things, Time’s Up seems to bring things down below the surface. “Love Rears Its Ugly Head” just may be one of the coolest mellow jams of the era. It was so different and as a young person this was a really unique exercise of musicianship.
“Solace of You” is such a great song too and yet another step into a whole new direction for Living Colour as it had this reggae and even Sting kind of vibe to it while the album closes out with the dark, almost Sabbath-esque “This Is the Life.” What a way to close a fucking album. Overall, Time’s Up is fucking fantastic. The album is so diverse and sonically it still sounds absolutely phenomenal. On Times Up, I feel like Living Colour proves that they are a band that has no boundaries and they really made a spectacular album. This is definitely one worth owning.
Release Date: March 2, 1993
The Good: Go Away, Ignorance is Bliss, Leave it Alone, Bi, Mind Your Own Business, Auslander, Never Satisfied, Nothingness, Postman, WTFF, This Little Pig, Hemp, Wall
From here on out, these are pretty new albums for me. I remember owning this one back in the day and not loving it. Why? I’m not sure because in listening to this one now I loved the fuck out of this album. Kicking things off with “Go Away”, the vibe for the rest of the album is pretty much set as a dark and may I say angry album? “Leave it Alone”, “Mind Your Own Business”, and “Never Satisfied” are full of rage and I love it because this is clearly a band that has plenty to say and uses their music to voice their frustrations and anger with the world. It’s also nice to hear it done so melodically as opposed to the growling unintelligible death metal.
This is without a doubt Living Colour’s darkest, most aggressive album to this point. The band came so far from their debut album and really developed into their own thing. They have such a unique sound and the music on Stain totally sets the bar extremely high. Why this album didn’t get more attention I don’t know. Maybe it was a bit ahead of its time? Who knows but regardless, this is a stellar album and it’s an album that I am so glad I have discovered. This one will be getting more plays from me in the future for sure.
Release Date: October 7, 2003
The Good: Song Without Sin, Flying, Sacred Ground,
The Bad: Operation: Mind Control, Back in Black,
The Indifferent: A ? of When, In Your Name, Nightmare City, Lost Halo, Holly Roller, Great Expectation, Choices Mash Up, Pocket of Tears, Tomorrow Never Knows,
My first thought on this album right out the gates was, “This sounds horrible.” For a band that prided themselves on putting out some damn near perfectly produced albums, Living Colour just sounds like they could care less about how it sounded. That aside, the first song was an absolute facemelter but then things took a weird turn. The oddly (and not in a good way) industrial sounding “Operation: Mind Control” is just flat out bad. “Flying” is a really haunting, disturbing song that my buddy James told me is about the 9/11 jumpers.
While it sounds like a “breakup” album, this was their “comeback.” Maybe they just had a loss of direction? Maybe they were trying to sound current? Who knows? All I know is that I just don’t find this album remotely worth the time to really listen to it. Their cover of “Back in Black” is absolutely atrocious and that along was enough to make me gag and their cover of “Tomorrow Never Knows” was good but just lifeless. All in all, this album is pretty much a waste and not something I will be revisiting ever again… except for two songs.
The Chair in the Doorway
Release Date: September 15, 2009
The Good: Burned Bridges, The Chair, Method, Bless Those, Hard Times, Out of Mind,
The Indifferent: DecaDance, Young Man, Behind the Sun, Taught Me, Not Tomorrow,
So… yeah… The Chair in the Doorway. Well, I don’t hate it but I definitely don’t love it. Once again it just sounds like, to me, that Living Colour is trying too hard for something. What it is they’re trying for I’m not quite sure but this album just didn’t capture me. It’s way better than its predecessor but it just feels like it falls a bit flat for me. “Burned Bridges” started things off so great but from there, even the good songs just were “good.” I will say that “Method” is a fucking massive and “Bless Those” is stellar.
As a whole, this album is all over the place. It’s not consistent at all but the songs that are good are really fucking good. There is some good shit here but it just seems like the album has a lot of weird filler to it. Maybe I’m not catching what they were going for but this album in general isn’t something I feel the need to run back to. The good songs, however, I feel are more than worthy of being included on a playlist but honestly, I feel like Stain was where they left it all. They have an album coming out this year and I’m curious to see where they go with it.