Album in Depth: Vivid by Living Colour

Hi, I’m JotaKa. I’m a rocker by birth and grew listening to rock discs and long plays by the dozen. Well, as the theme month is over and the whole 30th Album in Depth long gone, I think I’ll already start the next review, Vivid. This was one of the few bands I got to know from Guitar Hero (along with DragonForce, holy crap that was like more than one year ago), and to be honest, was one of the few that I got happy only knowing of Cult of Personality, which will have my opinion on it later on the track by track analysis. So, why is it Living Colour and not Living Color and why the cover is clearly something related to LSD? A little background is required:

The year is 1988. Helloween releases Keeper of the Seven Keys Part. 2 and I Heard It Through the Grapevine is recorded by… the California Raisins, that manages to get a pretty decent position in the charts. Die Hard hit the big screens and Beetlejuice, which probably was the last Tim Burton movie before going Johnny Depp and never coming back. Alan Moore’s Killing Joke is published (one of my most cherished comics, by the way) and Sega releases Phantasy Star 1 for the Master System (one of the few RPG series that probably are great, but the sprites kill me).

Vernon Reid was an English Guitarist that, also, was one of the founders of the Black Rock Coalition, which is exactly what it says in the tin: a group of black people who wanted to play their own style of rock and roll. With the help of some people from the group, he founded Living Colour, whose formation morphed throughout the two years that took to this album be released, with the personnel stating Corey Glover on the vocals, Muzz Skillings on the bass, Will Calhoun on the drums and, strangely, Mick Jagger on the back vocals… I guess he didn’t get that the whole concepts was not for his… type… because he is white… he was also one of the producers of the album… maybe it’s another Mick Jagger… probably it isn’t… okay… so, this is their debut album so there is nothing really more to share. The idea was that it would be a kind of street styled album, with elements from free jazz and funk rock, so the cover actually is quite fitting.

However, I still think the cover is a mess. I like graffiti art, and I can see what they were trying to do, but still, the cover wouldn’t be something to hang on a wall… maybe just for collector’s value. The entire album goes on for 49:13, with the shortest song being “Glamour Boys” with 3:39 and the longest song being “Desperate People” with 5:36, nothing too shabby, nothing to bitch about.

This is their most notable album, their most profitable album, their most recognizable album… it contains their major hit, cult of personality, and although not hitting any number one chart, it is regarded as one of the best albums out there. So, with that all being said, let’s dive right into it: Vivid by Living Colour.

1st track: “Cult of Personality” – This song is completely and utterly awesome. First, it talks about a subject that I really enjoy, which is the Cult of Personality (for those who do not know, it is to cult some person as if he was a god, or at least as if all he done was good, like JFK, Jesus Christ and Hitler, for the Hitler youth) in a pretty up-spirited light, going to the extension of being of giving three good example of cults of personality: Malcolm X, JFK and Roosevelt, along with citations on the lyrics to Gandhi, Mussolini, Stalin and… again, Kennedy. The riff is ingeniously simple, although catchy, and the guitar solo is kind of like Eddie Van Halen’s, although not as classy, even having an unrefined spirit to it, maybe to make it clearer to everyone that they are based on funk and jazz, and it is a free spirit. The vocals are great, everything just mixes perfectly, this song is a great intro. It will be a tough act to follow.

2nd track: “I Want to Know” – This song reminds me of Boston or Deep Purple, but a… the song is tame. After Cult of Personality, I was hoping for funk heavy metal of the greatest quality, but the vocal quality just plunges, the instrumentation is… well, bad, the lack of a more creative riff really makes the song to be an average song, with lyrics that are just another love song, with an specific part that reminds everyone of Queen… maybe that was the idea, copy a lot of bands while pretending to be original, but it failed. Although most people would classify Cult of Personality’s solo to be noise, at least it was something heart moving: this time, the guitar solo seems like the player is deep within lethargy. This song is so tame that it can’t be a follow up to Cult. Just that: not bad, just tame as hell, with a tiring end.

3rd track: “Middle Man” – Again, it lacks spirit. The song has, this time around, something that resembles a creative riff, and something that is to some a good vocal, but still, it isn’t Cult of Personality material. The lyrics are, well, forgettable, and although the song tries to give it all a make-up, the song is broken and average, with the guitar trying something like Cult… okay, from now on, I won’t try to compare it with the intro track, since I guess it’s awesomeness wore out: I’m expecting average songs from an average tame song. The song tries to end with a clever finish, but it fails: it’s just that, a failed song. Let’s hope that the next songs don’t make this whole experience worse than it already is.

4th track: “Desperate Ways” – Finally a semi decent song… kind of… no, this song is the same level as the other, but it sure as hell tries to mask that. It feels as a good metal song, but it isn’t… god, it isn’t. The song lacks any sort of spirit or identity, getting trapped in a hole of unimaginativeness, going so far as copying the guitar solo of Cult of Personality… yes, I said I wasn’t going to mention it, but it is. I don’t know if it is the same, or the style of solo is just really similar, but I really think it is just the intro track’s solo a little slowed down. The vocals try to save the song, with some screams and other heavy metal styled singing, but I wanted him to sing like he sang Cult, which is something that Glover is seemingly avoiding like Dracula from the cross. I don’t get it, really.

5th track: “Open Letter (To a Landlord)” – Ok, so we finally have a good idea with some good factors on to it… should we be happy with this? Should we grab an incredibly possible and talented group and praise it for above mediocrity songs? Well, as a standalone, it works. It is a message to… well… the rich people that are demolishing… the house of the poor… it is a really closed minded setting, but as a protest ballad, it kind of works… The chorus is a whiplash because it takes the awesomeness down a notch, but the song can be listened to, with a an… good guitar solo… nothing to inspired, but nothing as bad as the previous three tracks… at least, this one actually makes me have faith on the next 6 songs…

6th track: “Funny Vibe” – This song has Chuck D and Flavor Flav on it… really? Because… when I think hard rock and roll, I think fucking Public Enemy… okay… sorry… I hate rap and hip hop, this has to be addressed: the worse thing anyone can do is gather together because of their skin color. I’m dead serious: may you be white, black or green, you should only call talented people to your recording studio, not invite people because of “influence on target skin colored audience”. Public Enemy was huge at that time, mostly with the black crowd, having them with you will only please the black mass. Just for the record, I know there are probably white people that enjoy Public Enemy, but let’s face the facts of the year we are talking here. The song is simple, the guitar solo is almost exactly like it always has been, the rapping is downplayed… the idea of a song addressing prejudice is actually cool, but it is just so downplayed that it isn’t funny anymore. They should’ve took the chance and did what Run DMC did with Walk this Way… I would’ve probably hated it, but still, the idea is fresh. The only thing cool about this song is Will Calhoun drum, that for the first time are evidenced throughout the song, mostly on the beginning and in the end.

7th track: “Memories Can’t Wait” – I’m starting to think that Vernon Reid keeps doing the same guitar solo over and over… they all sound the same. As much as I find… sorry, folks, Cult of Personality awesome, it’s just the same guitar solo as always. The singing is downplayed (and reminds me of Red Hot, and that’s something you shouldn’t remind anyone of)… the vocals go all the places… I don’t know if that is something to applaud or boo. The guitar working, outside of the solo, shows clearly how they influenced a lot of people from nowadays, and obviously were influenced by a lot of people… overall… the song loses for a lack of freshness that I was hoping would permeate the entire album, not only hurt the surface… this album is so bland so far…

8th track: “Broken Hearts” – Quick tip for aspiring bands out there: if you do have the quality to pull a Dust in the Wind, do it. If not, you will end up with a boring ass song like Broken Hearts. It’s like the album is trying to suck horribly, and with the second guitar solo (or third) different solo on this album (because he used the same lots of different times), it’s managing to do it, even though the solo of this song is actually pretty good. The song is bland, boring, tame and repetitive, nothing like Cult of Personality, but at least it has an interesting bass line and the guitar works something out. Unfortunately, the singing is like country for the nearly deceased. This song gets on average, but sure as hell, I at least will avoid it as I can.

9th track: “Glamour Boys” – You know those songs that the singer just keeps telling about a certain group of society and what it does and what it is like? You know, like… Sick Boy, from Social Distortion’s Eponymous Album… or, to a lesser extent, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun of Cyndi Lauper? These examples are good examples. They are self-depreciatory and that’s what makes them fun: they are poking fun at themselves. When you record a song talking about people that think they are better than you, but say that you aren’t, you are, for the lack of a better word, fierce, you are doing it wrong. By the way, completely forgettable tune, with a Allman Brother’s Band type of guitar, but so discrete when it works like them that it shouldn’t even be considered anything like that. The solo is actually quite enjoyable, but it feels like it is covering a shit fan with duct tape: it’s a bad make up to an already fucked up situation. Listen to it once.

10th track: “What’s Your Favorite Color? (Theme Song)” – Theme song? For… what? Oh, I get it… it’s Living Colour theme song… that is actually a fun idea. It has that shaft feeling to it, without Isaac Hayes… why didn’t they call him? I don’t think he would turn it down or be expensive and he… fulfills the requirements… he would’ve made this song much more enjoyable with the baritone singing, instead of the generic singing. The guitar works out in a way that I really enjoy and the song starts with a yell, which is some of the things I enjoy… but the song is so forgettable that you can’t avoid an eye roll and a sigh. The idea is great, but the way they did it… don’t believe me, test it: listen to Cult of Personality and try to listen to this song: this song will slip faster out of your mind than the toast you left in the toaster… Let’s hope the outro of the album saves something…

11th track: “Which Way to America” – The same fucking guitar song, this time with more chaos and cacophony… again… I enjoy chaos on guitar solos… I enjoy Van Halen of all things… well, this time around, you guessed it, it is a fucking protest song… and it’s better than that, it is a completely forgettable protest song with little to nothing different about it… whoopee dee fucking doo whoo… at least till the second minute mark, where the song gets pretty enjoyable: the singing is remarkable, and gets the point across real easily, with a good guitar after it… let’s get the watch and see how much the goodness clocks in… 30 seconds… great… the lyrics are simple: how do you get to YOUR America? Simple design, simple concept, bad execution.

So, how does it all hold up? I had so much hopes, I had so much dreams… I really like Cult of Personality… I was hoping greatness of this album… however, it failed miserably. It is your classic example of one song to bind them all… this album was the second worst album I’ve ever reviewed… dead serious. It is bland, it is tame, it is boring, and it has so much talent from the get go that you want to burn the whole thing, find the guys responsible and beg them to make songs like the intro… The disappointment is what kills this album, that’s the idea behind it. Vivid Disappointment.

This is JotaKa, signing off.

What’s the point anyway…

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