They say that you can’t tell a book from its cover, but
that’s just a hoary old homily our grandparent’s grandparents came up with to
try and teach us something about rushing to judgment…or else it’s an indictment
of contemporary education, I’m not really sure which. But in our modern
society, marketing has taught us that the cover is the book, or at least a reasonable facsimile of such, and we all
know since childhood that the cookie portrayed on the front of the package has
little to do with the vaguely chocolate-flavored crumbs that we’ll pick out of
the box and shove into our greedy little maws while sitting mindlessly in front
of the TV set.
But I digress… honestly, you shouldn’t judge the first album
in five years from the reunited Living Colour from its amazingly ugly CD cover.
Chosen from among thousands of entries by the band’s fans across the globe,
there’s nothing about the cover artwork here that would leave one to believe
that this is a slammin’ new batch o’ tunes from one of the most innovative and
influential bands of the early ‘90s. Heck, there’s nothing here that wouldn’t
be mistaken for some bad video game software, much less scream “rock ‘n’
roll!” at the top of its leather-plated lungs. ‘Tis more the shame, too,
’cause The Chair In The Doorway is an
album that deserves to be discovered by the hard rock/heavy metal hungry masses
that have embraced the likes of Nickelback to get their cheap thrills.
Whether it was a change in musical trends, or the waning of
their creative juices, Living Colour’s brilliant late ‘80s shooting stardom
flamed out after the release of 1993’s Stain,
which was seen as somewhat of a letdown after the blinding white light/white
heat of the band’s 1988 debut, Vivid and its 1990 follow-up, Time’s Up.
The band went on hiatus for the better part of the decade, reuniting in 2000
and hitting the music biz treadmill again in ’03 with the critically-acclaimed,
commercially-ignored CollideØscope, and they have subsided mostly on
live gigs and live albums in the years since.
Although The Chair in
the Doorway may not reverse Living Colour’s unfortunate commercial
fortunes, the guys certainly have nothing to hang their collective heads in
shame over, either. Carefully-crafted over the past half-decade, the album
provides a nice balance of sly funk-metal and lyrical bombast, the band filling
the grooves with plenty of creative rhythms and exciting fretwork.
Corey Glover’s voice is a bit more ragged than it was 20
years ago, but he’s still capable of both a soulful metallic croon and a
roughneck howl. Bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun comprise one of
the best rhythm sections in contemporary music, period, with Wimbish’s
basswork vibrating out of the mix while Calhoun’s tub-thumping ranges from
subtle, seductive brushwork to devastating blasts of furious energy. As for
guitarist Vernon Reid, I’ve loved every note the guy has cranked out since I
first saw him perform back in ’87, and in my mind he’s one of the most
underrated, and madly imaginative guitarists of the past 20 years.
What can the longtime, never-say-die Living Colour fan
expect from The Chair in the Doorway?
Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The band continues
to grow in subtle and sometimes strange ways – heck, the engaging “That’s
What You Taught Me” could easily pass for a mainstream hard rock tune with
Reid’s conventional soloing, Glover’s passionate vox, and a radio-ready
rhythmic backdrop. But the adventurous “Burned Bridges” throws a few
more studio tricks into the mix, with oscillating fretwork and
subdued-but-powerful vocals underpinned by a driving backbeat.
“The Chair” is the album’s monster track, with a
dangerous slamdance groove met headfirst with spacey, reckless, anarchic
guitarwork and fierce vocals. The obligatory throwback tune here may be
“DecaDance,” the song invoking memories of Time’s Up era jams with its Godzilla-sized rhythm and barbed wire
solos, but “Heads Up” could be a Vivid outtake, with plodding dino-stomp rhythms and plenty of socially-conscious
moxie mucking up the grooves.
Time and trends may have passed Living Colour by, but that
doesn’t mean that the band can’t still create vital, exciting,
balls-to-the-wall hard rock ‘n’ roll as they have with The Chair in the Doorway. Although they don’t sound nearly as
innovative as they did in 1988, they’re certainly more musically subversive.
Forget about the cover, it’s what’s inside that counts…and in this case,
there’s plenty for everybody to enjoy.
Standout Tracks: “Burned Bridges,” “Hard Times,” “Not Tomorrow”
REV. KEITH A. GORDON