Living Colour proved that not all African Americans were into hip hop and R&B, and that in fact some even knew how to rock. In the late ’80s guitarist Vernon Reid emerged as a major talent, a subtle yet sophisticated player and someone who had obviously done his homework. If there was any indication of what Hendrix might have sounded like if he was around in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, then he would probably have resembled something like this. At the very least, it isn’t hard to imagine the two even jamming together, which is an indication of just how good Vernon really is.
Established in 1984 by Reid, it wasn’t until 1986 when Cory Glover (vocals) and Will Calhoun (drums), along with Muzz Skillings (bass) joining the following year, that the classic line up was complete. Leaving many of their rock contemporaries in the dust, the band’s 1988 debut Vivid was a powerful and vigorous exercise of musical conception. And with songs such as “Cult of Personality” and “Glamour Boys”, Living Colour successfully merged a dizzying array of styles combined with strong social/political commentary, enough to get the critics frothing from the mouth.
1990’s Time’s Up is just as impressive, even if it did fail to match the commercial success of its predecessor. Although God knows why, maybe the world just wasn’t ready to accept that a bunch of black dudes could outplay the likes of Guns ‘N’ Roses.
On the title track they unleash some thrash-metal, albeit of the intelligent variety, on which Reid displays his considerable guitar skills. The interlude of “History Lesson” makes way for the heavy
“Pride”, so heavy in fact that Whitesnake and Def Leppard might as well have given up their day jobs. The group come up trumps with the blues-oriented “Love Rears Its Ugly Head”, a Band of Gypsys styled tune with plenty of soul and a whole lot of attitude, with superb vocals by Glover. The pace quickens on “New Jack Theme”, then slows down again on the guitar driven “Someone Like You”.
The funk-rock of “Elvis Is Dead” includes a humorous cameo by none other than Little Richard, and although single “Type” may not be a great song, it does contain some intricate playing by Reid, as does the hard rocking “Information Overload”. The virtuosity extends itself throughout “Under Cover of Darkness”, and the jazz-prog of “Ology”. However we’re back to Hendrix territory with “Fight the Fight”, followed by yet another brief interlude on “Tag Team Partners” after which we have the calypso-rock of “Solace of You”, the sort of song one would expect to hear on a Peter Gabriel record.
Reid and Co. turn the amps up to a 105 on the scorching “This Is The Life”, and though it’s not all that much of a composition, one cannot doubt the band’s commitment to what they do.
Time’s Up is an album full of blistering guitar solos, soaring vocals, and sharp rhythms. Sure the production is somewhat dated, in that polished to perfection manner so common for its day, but nonetheless, Living Colour were one of the most exciting acts around. A couple of years later, the band would break up, seeing Reid forge a solo career, a far more obscure albeit mighty fine one at that. Vernon is a guitarist you never really want to keep your eyes off, because if you do, you just might miss something.