Living Colour's new album showcases progressive sounds
By Rob Bailey
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Living Colour has not faded - it just dropped out of the "Cult of Personality" for a rest.
After breaking down rock's race barriers with back-to-back Grammys for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1989 and 1990, playing the first, groundbreaking Lollapalooza tour and selling nearly 5 million records, the band split with little fanfare in 1995.
It was for the stock reasons: exhaustion, burnout, disillusionment over becoming a "brand."
But now uber-guitarist Vernon Reid, drummer Will Calhoun, bassist Doug Wimbish and singer Corey Glover are back with the "Collideoscope," a vibrant pastiche of funky genres that speaks volumes about what the members explored during their time off.
The new release never would have happened without the constant prodding - for five consecutive years - of legendary Montreux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs.
"He kept coming back and asking, 'Would you guys be interested in getting together for one show?" Calhoun said. "We kind of blew him off for a few years, but then I realized Claude was an important guy, and for him to make that request was pretty powerful."
So then, what took so long?
"We didn't battle with each other, but the hidden battle was, 'Is there any validity now?' " said Calhoun, during a recent phone interview from New York City. "Would the new music be valid today? Would we enjoy working together? It's like running into someone you used to go out with but broke up with. Do you just get back together and do what you did the first time or do you make changes?"
The indecision factor led the superior precursor to nü-metal to ask for a "massive, ridiculous" amount of money. Calhoun said he thought that would sabotage the reunion performance and save them from failing to live up to expectations.
Still, in 2000, the band reunited under a fake name for a single set at New York City's venerable CBGBs - where Mick Jagger discovered them more than a decade before. When Nobs surprised them by agreeing to their hefty payday, Living Colour stole the 2001 Montreux show.
"It had been a few years since we'd sat down and hashed out some music," Calhoun said. "We did a year-and-a-half of gigs - not all of them great - and went through different managers and agents. It was a litmus test for our new music. Living Colour's strongest point is its live show - no album can capture us in championship mode."
It took two years for "Collideoscope" (Sanctuary Records, $18.08) to be born.
"We thought, how do we make this Living Colour project progressive and move in a positive direction?" Calhoun said. "We're not afraid of failure and taking risks. There's nothing to fear when creating art. If we're satisfied with the product, that's where it ends. If people don't dig it, you can ignore it or try to make a record they like."
During the Living Colour hiatus, Reid worked with experimentalists like DJ Logic, Glover fronted various solo funk-soul projects and Wimbush founded the abstract band Jungle Funk.
Calhoun lived with Aborigines in Australia while studying tribal music before moving to Morocco to immerse himself in the trancelike sounds of Gnawan music. His work took him from Russia (with jazz great Wayne Shorter) to the ambient art galleries (with drum and bass outfits Headfake) of the Big Apple.
Vibe's Tony Green said the players' far-flung experiences lend distinctiveness to their new art.
"Most comeback albums explain, one way or another, why the artist left in the first place," Green wrote in his Nov. 13 "Collideoscope" review. "That's especially true of rockers Living Colour, whose new album reveals them as a group that was - and still is - just too damn progressive for its own good.
"For example, the dub-influenced 'Nightmare City' and the junglist romp 'In Your Name' remind us that these cats were melding rock and electronic sounds a decade before it became martini-and-cigar-bar discussion fodder," Green raved. "For a less skilled group, such eclectic awareness might equal incoherence. Instead, 'Collideoscope' embraces all those elements. It's the hard-core thrash of 'Song Without Sin' and a crushing take on AC/DC's 'Back in Black' that pleasantly remind us that Living Colour remains, foremost, a rock group in the classic non-negotiable sense."
Of course, some reviews accused them of cashing in on the current "we're no oldies act" vibe spearheaded by '80s artists like Jane's Addiction, the Bangles and Pat Benatar promoting new CDs.
"Yeah, we've been slagged, too, but I like reading the slag reviews better because they're more entertaining," said Calhoun, laughing. "But we're very satisfied with most of the comments. In this trade today, with all of the things happening in the world and business, the fact that we can still get some press is great."