After African-American rock 'n' roll musicians had broken new ground in the '70s, it seemed either their white contemporaries were eager to keep rock to themselves, or they sat back and watched a highly influential form of music called hip hop begin to define the black cultural experience. There were, however, exceptions, including seminal Washington, D.C., punk/reggae act Bad Brains and pioneering NYC alt-metal act Living Colour--two enduring bands that may not have influenced a swath of black rock artists, but inspired a bigger music scene that led to the '80s hardcore uprising and the '90s modern rock explosion.
Greatest Riffs is a thrilling primer for both restless devotees finally getting a thorough creative summation of the band, and curious newbies wondering where to trace their favorite punk, alternative and nu-metal acts back to. Bad Brains weren't the first rock band to blend reggae/worldbeat and rock together--the Clash, the Police and Public Image Ltd. had them beat by a couple of years--but they famously threw hardcore and funk into their mix of hyperactive, often sociopolitical punk, which found an audience in the burgeoning D.C. underground. Some of that scene's most beloved anthems are included here--including first single "Pay to Cum" and "I Against I"--proving Bad Brains weren't just genre-usurping pioneers, but skilled musicians and penetrating songwriters as well.
One band Bad Brains influenced was Living Colour, which arguably pays homage to its heroes on CollideOscope, its fourth studio album and first in a decade. For example, "Song Without Sin" sports and blends the plodding guitar dirge, chunky basslines and soulful vocal wailing you might spot in a Brains song. Living Colour often incorporates bits and pieces of their heroes--Van Halen, Sly & the Family Stone and Rush are a few--into its music and tweaks them enough to devise its own voice. And while some of the material here does sound a tad rote, especially given the dominance of hybridized acts such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine, the variety of song structures and timbre is striking. More notably, renowned guitarist Vernon Reid still complements (and often rises above) the rhythm section's viscous grooves, and Glover approaches post-9/11 themes with both genuine rage ("In Your Name") and depth ("Flying").
CollideOscope may not compete with a collection of material it's been seemingly influenced by, but it has a potency lacking in most of either bands' predecessors, black or white.--Mike Prevatt