Review Summary: An initially jolting change of musical direction still results in yet another solid and very good album, even if it is not as outstanding as either of the band’s previous 2 LPs.
Considering the quantity of tracks included on Living Colour’s 2nd album ‘Times Up’ and a few more out-takes being placed on the band’s ‘Biscuits’ E.P, the writing was on the wall that the NYC quartet would be changing musical direction to some degree next time around. However, in a move which initially surprised – yet retrospectively should not have – the directional change was not towards the more lucrative mainstream side of their funk/hard-rock fusion, but to an even heavier, angrier and less accessible sound on their 3rd full-length release ‘Stain’.
As with previous albums, Living Colour does not hold back on exhibiting their social conscience through their lyrics. Nor do they cease their want for thematical track groupings, as can be see in the titles of 4 of the opening 5 songs; ‘Go Away’, ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’, ‘Leave It Alone’ and ‘Mind Your Own Business’. One sequence of lyrics from the opening ‘Go Away’ pretty much sums up the grouping: “I see the starving Africans on TV. I feel it has nothing to do with me. I send my $20 to Live Aid. I paid my guilty conscience to go away”. Unfortunately, sometimes it is taken too far and comes off too pessimistically: “I don’t want anybody to touch me. I think that everybody has AIDS. What’s the point of caring for you? You’re gonna die anyway”.
There are still some rather accessible moments to be had on ‘Stain’, as lead single (Grammy Award nominated) ‘Leave It Alone’ proves. A rather immediate cut which still showcases the band’s all-around talent, it isn’t anything too extraordinary and comes off as the kind of straight-forward track they can pull off in their sleep. The quirky ‘Bi’ which follows is a poppier, semi-humorous and half-decent take on bisexuality where lead vocalist Corey Glover belts out “Everybody wants you when you’re Bi”. How it was included in amongst the opening quintet of tracks however, is anyone’s guess.
If some listeners are concerned with the insistent nature of the LP’s beginning, they will be pleased to hear that the latter half of ‘Stain’ is a much more diverse and experimental group of songs. One new direction which Living Colour dabble in on a couple of the tracks is the industrial genre. Released single ‘Auslander’ is one such example and while it is initially off-putting, it eventually proves itself to be one the album’s stronger cuts. Glover’s vocals are especially effective here in amongst the assorted background music and sounds.
One factor to be noted with regards to ‘Stain’ is that it is the first time in which Living Colour dealt with a personnel change. Outstanding bassist Muzz Skillings had left and was replaced by Doug Wimbish. To be honest, it tells as Wimbish’s bass is far less prominent here than on previous releases. Ironically, the one track in which his work does get to shine is on album highlight ‘Nothingness’. The slowest cut on ‘Stain’, it is a successfully moody piece which perfectly conveys isolation and loneliness, even if the chirping crickets in the background get a little annoying after a while.
Of course, arguably Living Colour’s most synonymous trademark is Vernon Reid’s spectacular wailing guitars. His work is definitely as ever-present as always here, but you uncharacteristically often have to listen out for it as compared to when it jumped out and demanded attention on previous releases. Take for example the main riff and solo from track 7 ‘Never Satisfied’. A duo of tracks where Reid does hit pay-dirt though is the super angry tandem of ‘Postman’ and ‘This Little Pig’. The menacing riff on the former matches the frightening (whispered & intense) vocals of the serial-killer portraying Glover, while the rampaging musically-schizophrenic indictment of power-abusing police that is the latter hits home hard.
In a fashion, Reid’s guitar-work makes for a telling analogy for ‘Stain’ as a whole. Once the aforementioned change of musical direction is grown accustomed to, Living Colour’s 3rd full-length release is yet another solid and very good album. However, it is not as outstanding as either ‘Vivid’ or ‘Times Up’, with pretty much all components of the band being downgraded in comparison. Of course, this is the talented Living Colour we are referring to here, meaning ‘Stain’ is still very much a worthwhile listen.
Recommended Tracks: Nothingness, Leave It Alone, Auslander & This Little Pig.