Remember the day-glo Body Glove wear, dreads wrapped in coloured yarn, and monster funk-rock riffs? Eight years after breaking up, Living Colour has returned–sans neon, thankfully. So, in case you don’t remember why this is a good thing, here’s a refresher. The band’s debut in ’88 did for hard rock what Bad Brains did for punk–bring a sonically aggressive and lyrically political sound, filtered through an African American experience, to an almost exclusively Anglo genre. The group’s two follow-up full-length albums failed to duplicate the success of Vivid though, mostly because they were both less focused and more adventurous, exploring punk to R&B. Not surprisingly, the inability to decide on the direction of a fourth album was their demise.
Now, with Collid0scope, the New Yorkers are visiting some familiar territory with mixed results. Overall the album is infused with more spacey electronic flourishes than ever before, contains the same biting social commentary (notably "Nightmare City" and "In Your Name"), has plenty of that familiar groove, and thrives on Vernon Reid’s freakishly accomplished guitar. Unfortunately, none of the songs reach the fever pitch of "Cult of Personality," capture the thrash assault of "Time’s Up," or give off the quiet warmth of "Solace of You." Songs like "Sacred Ground" and "? Of Mind, A" are repetitive and bland, while the two covers: a tongue-in-cheek reworking of AC/DC’s "Back in Black" and a protracted take of the Beatles’ "Tomorrow Never Knows," are unnecessary. The band can still pen urgent, catchy rock, though, as proven on "Song Without Sin" and "Operation Mind Control." The polished gem on the album is the eloquent yet gut-wrenching "Flying," written from the viewpoint of someone forced to jump from a burning Trade Tower.
Living Colour still sounds exciting and feels important, now it’s just a matter of finding that elusive focus. Maybe there really was magic in those bright yellow Body Glove outfits.