Review Summary: Impressive songwriting, musical talent & original fusions of sound result in one of the greatest albums of all time!
"And during the few moments that we have left, we want to talk right down to Earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand". With this edited snippet of Malcolm X's famous 'Message to the Grass Roots' speech, so begins not only one of the greatest debut singles of all time, but one of the greatest albums full stop! Of course, the choice of Malcolm X is more relevant here since New York City quartet Living Colour are in fact all African-American, a rarity in their chosen genre of hard-rock/metal.
The band are not so narrow-minded however, with the same track - Grammy Award winning lead single 'Cult Of Personality' - later containing excerpts from JFK & Franklin Roosevelt, in examining the two-edged sword concerning life as a world-famous politician or social figure. Amongst this reviewer's greatest ten songs of all time, the aforementioned cut is memorable from the get-go with a thick crunching riff courtesy of founding member Vernon Reid and the driving rhythm section of Muzz Skillings & William Calhoun. Extroverted lead vocalist Corey Glover then provides the perfect blend of intensity and cynicism that the track requires, before it is all topped off by an orgasmic solo which is too often forgotten when "Best Solo" lists are compiled.
Following such a tremendous hard-rocking opener, the last thing one would expect to hear from the remainder of the album is diversity. Yet, that is exactly what is served up and makes 'Vivid' such an impressive debut. Providing a fusion of rock ('Middle Man'), funk ('Theme Song'), pop ('I Want To Know'), metal ('Desperate People'), jazz ('Broken Hearts'), punk ('Which Way To America?'), reggae ('Glamour Boys') and even hip-hop ('Funny Vibe'), each member prove their talent in being able to adapt to the needs of each particular piece.
Whether they are straight-forward or extravagant, Living Colour find a way to make their songs both meaningful and hooky. Highlight 'Open Letter (To A Landlord)' is a touching power-ballad with a twist, as it takes to task money hungry slumlords with one-part poignant and one-part biting lyrics. "Now you can tear a building down, but you can't erase a memory" sings the soulful Glover, before snarling "Last month there was a fire, I saw several children die. You sent flowers to their family, but your sympathy's a lie".
The other end of the spectrum sees a funky almost hip-hop like cut in 'Funny Vibe' always stay on the correct side of both cheesiness and seriousness. Featuring Chuck D & Flavor Flav of Public Enemy, the words here are super simplistic, yet hit home as hard as any other to effectively get its anti-racism message across; "No I'm not gonna rob you... No I'm not gonna beat you... No I'm not gonna rape you... So why you wanna give me that funny vibe?"
The quality of songwriting evident on 'Vivid' is akin to that of a veteran band, not one making their debut. On top of the cuts already mentioned, 'Middle Man' uses another crunching riff to back its simple and to-the-point lyrics which the mass populous can easily relate to. Glover is phenomenal vocally here, as he is on the ravaging and intense 'Desperate People'. Then, just to show their ability to take another artist's track and make it their own, Living Colour perform an inspired version of Talking Heads' 'Memories Can't Wait'.
In truth, there is hardly a flaw on 'Vivid'. Sure, it is a touch front-loaded with most of the highlight tracks coming prior to track 7, but that does not mean that the latter half offers little. 2nd single 'Glamour Boys' (which was produced by Mick Jagger) adds a poppy reggae-like feel to proceedings and even gets a laugh as it takes aim at the silver spoon brigade. Like 'Funny Vibe' before it and 'Whats Your Favorite Color? (Theme Song)' after it, the line of silliness is almost crossed, yet there is a pop sensibility which makes each track difficult to dislike. 'Theme Song' especially, is almost annoyingly catchy in its funky simplicity.
As all great albums should do, 'Vivid' also ends with an absolute corker of a song in 'Which Way To America?'. The second track to be produced by Jagger, Muzz Skillings (who is astronomically good throughout this LP) provides excellent bass-work to this almost punk-like cut that is altogether fantastic musically. Corey Glover delivers impassioned lyrics here concerning the gulf between the different socio-economic classes in America; "I look at the T.V, your America's doing well. I look out the window, my America's catching hell... I just wanna know which way do I go to get to your America?"
If I may repeat what I stated earlier on in this review, Living Colour's 'Vivid' contains one of the greatest individual songs of all time. Yet, when all is said and done, it is a combination of the musical talent on hand and the original fusions of sound which makes the entire release a truly great album. Meshing the super-tight rhythm section with Reid's thrilling guitar-work (there is almost a solo in every song, no matter what its leanings) and Glover's striking vocals, 'Vivid' is not only an even and consistently impressive album that should appeal to a wide audience, but it is one which has stood the test of time. In fact, it sounds just as fresh now as it did when it was released 20 years ago!
Recommended Tracks: Cult Of Personality, Open Letter (To A Landlord), Desperate People, Middle Man & Which Way To America?