When a band of your youth releases its first album after an eight-year studio hiatus you enter into your listening experience with a certain degree of apprehension. There’s that uneasy feeling of “please don’t suck” in the pit of your stomach mixed with dread that listening to the album might undo the glory of all your teen memories. So as I settled in to listen to Living Colour’s new release Shade, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Do they still rock?” “Can they still rock?”
Thankfully yes they can, and oh yes they do.
Any doubt was quickly blown away with the blistering album opener “Freedom of Expression (F.O.X.)” that’s rooted in a classic Living Colour uber-heavy guitar riff igniting off the fingers of Vernon Reid, while drummer extraordinaire Will Calhoun adds a bottom so heavy it’s subterranean. With Corey Glover’s defiant vocals and insightful lyrics and Doug Wimbish’s mind-melting bass, the song proves that Living Colour aren’t here for some nostalgic trip. They mean business.
Amongst the raft of original songs are a smattering of covers led by a rock-blues take on Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues” that allows each member to shine, a funk-metal reimagining of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” and a powerful reworking of the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya” that is repackaged as an anti-gun violence protest song while it pounds in your chest.
Whilst the covers are a reminder of how Living Colour can genre-bend and stretch themselves musically, the real sonic-elasticity is contained in their originals. Take lead single “Come On,” a funk-fusion that rocks with swagger and strut. With a rallying chorus and sonic melding of classic Living Colour and modern studio trickery, it is the perfect reintroduction.
Tracks like “Program” with its pointed take on the blurring line between reality and TV, “Blak Out” with its crunchy bass bottom and soaring guitars, and the hyperactive “Pattern in Time” not only draw a linear connection back to blues, but also demonstrate how it forms the foundation of the continuing evolution of rock music, no matter how hard or heavy it gets.
“Who’s That” offers a blues-soul-funk-rock frenzy that will have the likes of Gary Clark Jr. wide-eyed in awe, and album closer “Two Sides” reminds us that Living Colour have always been a rock band with a social conscience as they eulogize, “There is no innocence / If you have to choose,” a comment that seems like an all too apt reflection of the current state of play.
In an album that proves Living Colour’s continued relevancy, “Always Wrong” is the perfect encapsulation of everything that drew us to Living Colour in the first place. As the midpoint of the album, it manages to not only effortlessly mesh together their musical legacy but also points to a way forward.
Despite being worked on on-and-off over a four-year period, the album still feels vital and fresh. Helmed by producer Andre Betts, Shade allows the band to showcase their sublime musical talents and venture in multiple directions (sometimes simultaneously) without losing focus. For fans who have longed for a new release, and for those who might have lost touch, Shade is a convincing reminder of the potency of Living Colour. It also has you excited for what may come next.
Notable Tracks: “Always Wrong” | “Come On” | “Freedom of Expression (F.O.X.)” | “Who Shot Ya”
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