POP MUSIC REVIEW : Living Colour Adds Artiness to Palette
Is “Time’s Up,” the second album by Living Colour, a step forward or a step backward?
It depends on who you talk to.
If you saw the group’s show Tuesday at the Palladium, you might think it was a step backward. Showcasing “Time’s Up’s” cerebral, reflective, complex and relatively low-key material, the show could have used more of the gutsy, mind-blowing, dynamic music the New York foursome played as the opening act on the Rolling Stones’ tour last year.
Living Colour--guitarist Vernon Reid, lead vocalist Corey Glover, drummer Will Calhoun and bassist Muzz Skillings--is the first black rock band to have significant commercial success since Sly & the Family Stone back in the late ‘60s.
The group was well on its way to becoming the black Led Zeppelin--with material featuring explosive power chords and that basic, repetitive beat. Reid’s guitar solos are certainly as innovative and transfixing as any Jimmy Page played for Zeppelin. There was also the hope that Living Colour might even spruce up that hard-rock sound with gritty funk trimmings and splashes of soul.
But with “Time’s Up,” the band has clearly gone in another direction--opting for intelligence, depth and all-around artiness over sheer power, simplicity and low-down, funky hard rock. On the one hand, it’s admirable that the group has avoided formula music and attempted to forge a style bearing its exclusive stamp. Accordingly, critics approve. But for hard-rock fans, it’s a shame the musicians didn’t follow through on their “black Zeppelin” promise.
If the band continues in this direction, shows like the ones the group did on the Stones’ tour may be a thing of the past.
The song from the second album that gets the most attention--the acerbic, punk-funk “Elvis Is Dead”--is by far the most compelling of the new songs. At the Palladium, the band performed it at a scorching pace and with incredible intensity. The lyrics weren’t comprehensible, but you couldn’t help responding to the fervor.
What makes any Living Colour show worthwhile--no matter how cerebral the band gets--are those dazzling Reid solos: dizzying, furious flights of fancy that careen along at super speed. They’re never too long, and they’re cannily interspersed so that you never quite get enough of them.
Lead singer Glover, though, is just a so-so showman, and he was just mildly effective vocally. Most of the time, you couldn’t understand any of those intelligent lyrics. Part of the garbling was his fault. The Palladium’s sound system, though, shared the blame.
Distinguishing the instruments was a chore. Sometimes it got so bad that you couldn’t tell the difference between the bass and drums.
But the crowd, obviously responding primarily to rhythms and the sheer noise, seemed to love the show.
Early in the show, the surge of the crowd knocked down the restraining barrier just in front of the stage, bruising some people in the process. The show was stopped for about 15 minutes until order could be restored.
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