Vernon Reid is a fan, an enthusiast. In the course of a short phone interview, when he's not zipping down some intellectual byway about terrorism or corporate radio or the blues, he talks about music he loves -- anything from Radiohead to Alice Coltrane, OutKast to Burt Bacharach.
That enthusiasm and eclecticism are part of the driving force behind Living Colour, the hard-rock band Reid led that earned multiplatinum success in the late 1980s and early '90s, most notably through the hit "Cult of Personality."
Six years after breaking up the band, Reid -- the daring guitarist and trenchant songwriter -- reunited with singer Corey Glover, drummer Will Calhoun and bassist Doug Wimbish for a tour in 2001 that proved Living Colour's molten mix of metal, funk and jazz was as potent as ever. Now comes a new album, "Collideoscope," and a Friday night visit to the Roseland Theater.
Reid spoke by phone from a recent tour stop in Arizona. Some excerpts follow.
In addition to Living Colour, you also founded the Black Rock Coalition for support and advocacy. Do you feel your earlier success helped that agenda or brought other bands along in your wake?
Every band that makes it in this business -- apart from those that are just massively hyped -- is an inspiration, because they're making it in spite of the business. I think that's what we were. We were a band that wasn't even supposed to exist, much less have any sort of success. Because the conventional rule (about who could play rock) was pretty hard and fast.
Does getting on the radio and into the mainstream consciousness feel like as big a hill to climb now as in '88-'89?
Sure it does. Things have changed, but then they haven't. . . . Every band -- I don't care who you are -- is one tune away from obscurity. You have to carve your own path.
What did you or the others learn from all your projects during the band's break that you've brought back to Living Colour?
I don't want to speak for other folks, but I do want to say that Will became a world-class percussionist. He went off into the deserts and the outbacks of the world and studied and really grew. And Corey grew by leading a band of his own. Doug has always been so in touch with electronic music and so many other things. And for me it's been a gradual journey. I've had a chance to work with choreographers such as Bill T. Jones and Donald Byrd, and got a better sense of the body in space and time. I had a chance to start producing records, and work with Salif Keita and James Blood Ulmer.
When you broke up the band in '95, you said that its "sense of unity and purpose was getting weaker and fuzzier." What does the new album tell us about that unity and purpose now?
"Collideoscope" is the sound of Americans dealing with what America is today. It's also the sound of a band finding common ground to be together again.
Infernal Combustion Reviews Collidescope
LIVING COLOUR - Collideoscope (Sanctuary) (8.0 /10)
After Living Colour disbanded following 1993's excellent Stain, the members drifted off into various directions: bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun took the session route, while vocalist Corey Glover and guitarist Vernon Reid served time in the wonderful world of tribute albums in between solo albums/new projects that inevitably tanked (anyone got that Yohimbe Brothers cd?). That said, it's no surprise that the quartet got back together. Older, wiser, and as pissed off as ever, Living Colour prove with Collideoscope that they still had some things to get off their chests.
I have to say, I had a bit of smile on my face hearing a typically fucked-up intro followed by Glover's distinctive vocals on the opener "Song Without Sin." Has it really been a decade since their last album? There's no trendhopping here, thankfully. No, it pretty much sounds like what would have been the follow-up to Stain had they not broken up. Sarcasm reigns supreme on "Operation Mind Control," which proceeds with the tempo and rhythm of a nursery rhyme. The anti-terrorist anthem "A ? Of When" is Living Colour at their most furious (Glover screams "Can it happen again?/Can it happen again?/Not a question of if/But a question of when"). There's a very strong (and potentially groan-inducing) "post 9/11" vibe throughout ("In Your Name" also deals with the subject), but the band handles it as professionally and intelligently as Queensryche's recent Tribe did. There's a few missteps along the way: the instrumental closer "Nova" is anticlimactic, to say the least, and there's an ill-advised (and straight-faced) cover of AC/DC's "Back in Black" that might have been fine as a hidden track, but it's unavoidable right in the middle of the record (a cover of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" fares somewhat better). Also, "Nightmare City" could have been the best thing Living Colour ever did had Glover not warbled the verses in a faux-Jamaican accent.
Still, despite those sporadic stumbles, Collideoscope is an infectious album—there's enough really good stuff on here (and give it a few listens—it's a grower, for sure) to make you realize what a good band we're dealing with here. Welcome back, boys. You've been missed.
- Mark Tinta
2 Walls review of Living Colour Collideoscope
Living Colour CollideOscope (2003)
The Living Colour brothers sound a little tired and don’t rock it like they used to. LC used to be a soulcore roar, but now Corey spends more time sloganeering than singing, and Vernon has just run out of gas. Explorations of futuristic techno-metal don’t really catch fire, and the band’s cover choices miss the simplicity of “Back In Black” and the head in the clouds psychedelia of “Tomorrow Never Knows”. It’s hard to tell if they’ve outgrown their funk-rock roots, or if every band they inspired caught up and passed them. The glammer boys aren’t so fierce any more and the colors are fading. Oh well.
webmaster note - I like the new Janes Addiction, not a lot, and by no means do I want to show a disrespect towards them, but read how this author praises Jane's, and subsequently disses LC.
Living Colour preview from PortlandMercury.com
LIVING COLOUR WITH TONY C. & THE TRUTH
(Roseland, NW 6th & Burnside) Unlike the Platters or the Temptations or, say, the Violent Femmes, who are trotted out now and again as revival bands at county fairs, Living Colour has retained their name but smashed the mold that made them famous. With their breakout "Cult of Personality," Living Colour became a brand name for late-'80s political rock. In many ways that overwhelming fame trapped the band, both musically and personality-wise. Just like doo-wop was groundbreaking, garnering a certain gravity for pop music and then floating away into obscurity, Living Colour was soon outdated by its predecessors--many whom they probably and ironically inspired. By the mid-'90s, Living Colour as a commodity was a stale, quaint relic from a tamer era. But a funny thing about fame is that there's usually the public image, and then there's what's happening behind the image. For the past few years, the band's founding members have returned to their stomping grounds, NYC's CBGB, and have been experimenting further with funk sounds. PHIL "CAN'T STOP THIS FEELING" BUSSE