Review Summary: Divisive due to its ambition & want to challenge listeners over such a lengthy period, ‘Times Up’ is still excellent on the back of at least half a dozen quality tracks and the sheer talent & diversity of the 4 musicians.
One of the major strengths of Living Colour’s classic debut album ‘Vivid’ was the ability of the band to show their talent no matter which musical genre a particular song belonged to. If the opening title track of follow-up release ‘Times Up’ is anything to go by, the ambition of the NYC quartet is even greater here. A frenetic hotch-potch from the very beginning, the cut owes more to thrash-metal than anything else! It is a seriously arresting shock to the system which will leave many listeners gasping for breath. When it is followed by a strange one minute interlude, many will wonder if Living Colour has totally lost the plot.
Thankfully, things relatively settle down following the whirlwind of a beginning, with the conventionally structured 5th and final single ‘Pride’ placed next in the track order. Kicking off with one of Vernon Reid’s distinctively thick riffs, Corey Glover imposes his passionate vocals on proceedings as he takes a shot at the history taught in American schools; “It’s up to you to seek the truth, to know your history, the difference between me and you. Relate to me as me, not what you see on T.V”. The cut is then nicely topped off with a killer Reid solo.
However, ‘Pride’ is beaten for album highlight status by the following ‘Love Rears Its Ugly Head’. The most well-known of the bands songs outside of America having reached top 20 in both the U.K and Australia, it appears in 2 separate – if rather similar versions - here. This methodically paced soulful cut best exhibits Glover’s maturity as a vocalist, with his control, range and power being exemplary, while the musicians once again prove their ability to do what is required for the betterment of the individual track.
In truth, ‘Times Up’ is definitely not devoid of a batch of very good songs. In addition to the aforementioned highlights, penultimate track ‘Solace Of You’ uses its African rhythms to near-perfection, while six minute pseudo-closer ‘This Is The Life’ takes its simple Jekyll & Hyde lyrical idea and matches it with alternating moody and optimistic music. Meanwhile, the take on modern society that is ‘Type’, is also very solid and above-average, even if it was an interesting choice to be the LPs lead single.
Apart from the touches of humor on ‘…Ugly Head’, this is a rather serious and dark album. That is probably why a song such as ‘Elvis Is Dead’ is so effective here. Lightening the mood, Glover & Co take a semi-humorous approach in communicating their distaste on the monotonous Elvis sighting rumors used to make money and how some fans still idolize The King decades after his death. A fantastic breakdown containing a cameo by Little Richard is the real clincher of this attention-seeking single. In fact, cameos are something Living Colour use well as Queen Latifah provides a quality verse to the slinky sexual ballad that is ‘Under Cover Of Darkness’, while Doug E. Fresh contributes to interlude ‘Tag Team Partners’.
So with all these positives, where is ‘Times Up’ a let-down? Well, to cut to the chase, it is simply too over-long. While this may not bother some people, the album is such a challenging listen that it tends to come off as overbearing. As much as the album flows rather well, since back-to-back tracks will often have either assisting or contrasting lyrical content, it does result in the perception of too much redundant filler. Arguably falling under this umbrella are the druglord anthem ‘New Jack Theme’, the anti-authority ‘Someone Like You’, the technophobic ‘Information Overload’ and the call for unity that is ‘Fight The Fight’.
Most of the tracks just mentioned are decent in isolation, but because they are part of a 72 minute package (including the 3 bonus tracks), they come off as practically unnecessary. Still, even these tracks will include glimpses of lyrical brilliance such as “I make more money than a judge or a cop, give me a reason why I should stop” on ‘New Jack Theme’, and ‘Policeman are you happy? You snuffed a medical student out. Maybe he could have changed the world. I guess we’ll never find out” off of ‘Someone Like You’.
As alluded to, pretty much every pressing of ‘Times Up’ will include three bonus tracks, the last of which is the AKA Soul Power Mix of ‘Love Rears Its Ugly Head’. Prior to that, two live tracks prove how dynamic Living Colour is on stage. The first of the duo is an interesting cover of experimental rock band Pere Ubu’s ‘Final Solution’, while Vivid single ‘Middle Man’ is also included. Both recordings show the absolute brilliance of axe-man Reid, whether it’s the alarming shrill of the former, or the crunching riff of the latter.
For both casual fans and loyalists, ‘Times Up’ is likely to be a divisive release due to its ambition and want to challenge listeners over such a lengthy period of time. While there is more than a sufficient amount of the band’s trademark variety, there is little compromise shown here, with Living Colour striving to achieve their objectives and not allowing a number of accessibility characteristics get in their way. ‘Times Up’ is still an excellent release however, worthy of its 1991 Grammy Award for ‘Best Hard Rock Performance’, on the back of at least half a dozen quality tracks and the sheer talent and diversity of the four musicians.
Recommended Tracks: Love Rears Its Ugly Head, Pride, Elvis Is Dead & This Is The Life.