The funk-rockers’ best album for two decades.
Stevie Chick 2010-01-13
Despite the fact that Chuck Berry and Ike Turner pretty much invented this thing we call rock’n’roll, Living Colour surfaced in the late 80s to a chorus of “Can a Black group play heavy rock?” chin-stroking from establishment rock critics, ignoring the fact that Funkadelic had definitively answered this question a decade or so previously, and that the 1980s proved a boom-time for great rock’n’roll performed by African-American groups (cf Bad Brains, Fishbone). Their second, breakthrough album, 1990’s Time’s Up, drowned out such blether with a fiercely intelligent, restlessly inventive and powerfully political treatise that sprawled from swaggering funk-rock, to feral thrash-punk, to gonzoid rap-metal, to lilting Afropop, which nevertheless displayed infallible focus, hitting its wide array of targets with a series of bulls-eyes.
They never quite regained the focus of this, their peak release, not on the exhausting and intense follow-up, 1993’s Stain, or the similarly bleak and uncompromising Collideøscope, which arrived after a decade’s hiatus. But, if their last two albums found Living Colour’s molten, metallic funk solidifying into muscular, Rollins Band-esque heft, The Chair in the Doorway finds them loosening and lightening up, leavening their deep, dark blues with moments of grand flash and hearty, arms-aloft chorus.
For one thing, Corey Glover has never sounded in such great voice, his fine balance of fiery howl and sugared croon, giving the group their powerful Hard Rock heft, under-stated and perfectly judged on the sarcastic blues-rock of Bless Those (Annie’s Prayer), courageously matching the sturm und drang of his group on the churning Hard Times. Vernon Reid, meanwhile, has lost none of his delight in ricocheting between old skool riffage and avant-garde fret-damage. His solos here are flamboyant and breath-taking, like if Eddie Van Halen had been raised on free-jazz blurt, electrifying sometimes pedestrian material.
It’s the songwriting that scuppers the album’s lunge after a true return to form: there are some fine tracks here, notably the cocksure strut of Young Man, the heavy grind of DecaDance, but Living Colour rarely stray from the heavy rock blueprint, which will disappoint veteran fans hoping for more of Time’s Up’s maverick stylistic volte-faces (the disco-funk of Behind the Sun is one exception). But if The Chair in the Doorway is ‘just’ a heavy rock album, it’s still more alive, more impressive, more impassioned than most out there, and also their best in two decades.