ON THIS DATE (24 YEARS AGO)
May 3, 1988 – Living Colour: Vivid is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 5/5 (see TWO CENTS WORTH below)
# allmusic 4.5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ TWO CENTS WORTH
OK, how many of you that were 25-30 or so years old when they first heard this and said “Holy s**t!” and went to their local haunt to pick up a copy of this and played the hell out of it? We really, really needed this in 1988, and it wouldn’t hurt to rediscover it in 2012.
Living Colour did not have to try to hard – they have “it.” I mean, playing at CBGB’s, then covering the Talking Heads and doing it well and with sincerity?
Vivid is the debut album by Living Colour, which was released on May 3, 1988. It contained three singles and became one of the most popular albums of 1988, reaching #6 on the Billboard 200 and certified double platinum by the RIAA. The band would later receive a Grammy for their next studio release, Time’s Up. Vivid is included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Amid the deluge of glam metal that ruled the charts and airwaves in the late-1980s, NYC’s Living Colour issued its debut, 1988’s Vivid. The album proved to be a much-needed breath of fresh air at the time, as the band was not just limited to hard rock–Living Colour’s sound contained punk, funk, reggae, soul, and freeform jazz. And while most other rock bands at the time were obsessed with partying and fast cars, Living Colour added thought-provoking lyrics to the mix (especially on such selections as “Open Letter to a Landlord”).
The album-opening “Cult of Personality” remains an ’80s hard-rock classic, while such other cuts as the rocking “Middle Man” and “Desperate People,” a remake of the Talking Heads’ ‘Memories Can’t Wait,” the downhearted “Broken Hearts,” the reggae-tinged “Glamour Boys,” and the instrumental “Funny Vibe” are all standouts. All the genre-jumping alternative-metal bands of the late-’90s owed a great deal to Living Colour and this classic debut.
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW
It was, in the beginning, music by and for blacks, documenting in the black vernacular the everyday agonies and ecstasies of black life. So why, nearly forty years on, is the idea of a black rock & roll band such an anomaly in pop’s social order, not to mention unspeakable on AOR radio? At a time when Jesse Jackson is confronting America with the serious possibility of a black man in the White House, what’s so improbable about a black rock band – fueled by racial pride yet preaching the unity gospel, equally inspired by Led Zeppelin and George Clinton – scoring in the white mainstream?
With Vivid, the improbable is now the inevitable. Living Colour, the all-black no-bullshit flagship band of New York’s Black Rock Coalition, has already wowed local rainbow crowds of Mohawks, metalheads and soul brethren with its fusion of buzz-saw punk, slam-dunk funk, avant-jazz frenzy and arena-rock waaaagh! It’s all wrapped up tight with the pop-hook savvy and barbed-wire fretwork of guitarist-songwriter Vernon Reid, and if nothing else, you can easily dig Vivid on a purely visceral level, thanks in no small part to the in-your-face fidelity of Ed Stasium’s production.
“Cult of Personality” and “Middle Man” are right up Heavy Metal Blooze Street, Reid slicing and dicing riffs like some six-string Zorro. “Glamour Boys,” one of two dynamite pre-Epic demos produced by Mick Jagger and wisely included here, kicks like an ornery mule and sports a knockout chorus (“I ain’t no glamour boy – I’M FIERCE”). And singer Corey Glover lights a Memphis R&B bonfire under a brilliant reconstruction of Talking Heads’ “Memories Can’t Wait,” torching David Byrne’s original nervous paranoia with a brooding soulful hurt stoked by Reid’s periodic guitar tantrums.
But Vivid isn’t just a call to rock. Rooted firmly in the black rock-and-rhetoric continuum of Sly Stone, late-Sixties James Brown and the Bad Brains, it’s also a call to accounts. “Which Way to America?” is a righteous demand for a fair slice of the American-dream pie. In “Open Letter (to a Landlord),” a power-rock protest against creeping gentrification and unchecked greed, Living Colour backs up its show of rage with chilling images of arson and blood money and a startlingly poignant chorus.
In its own way, Vivid is an open letter to rock & roll itself, a demand for equal time and respect from a music that is Living Colour’s birthright. Vivid is too good to succeed in the white – or black – mainstream by virtue only of racial guilt, for kicking you at the base of your conscience. At its best, it combines the dance stance of classic Sly and P-Funk with a raw guitar frenzy born of both James Marshall Hendrix and James Blood Ulmer. But much of Vivid’s power comes from Living Colour’s direct address to the unspoken but very real problem of racism in modern rock & roll (“No, I’m not gonna rob you/No, I’m not gonna beat you/No, I’m not gonna rape you/So why you want to give me that funny vibe?”). Vivid will not change the world single-handedly, but it’s a timely reminder of why it’s always worth trying. (RS 528)
~ DAVID FRICKE (June 16, 1988)
All songs written by Vernon Reid, except where noted.
1 Cult of Personality (Reid, M.Skillings, C.Glover, W.Calhoun) 4:54
2 I Want to Know 4:24
3 Middle Man (Glover, Reid) 3:47
4 Desperate People (Calhoun, Reid, Glover, Skillings) 5:36
5 Open Letter (To a Landlord) (Reid, Tracie Morris) 5:32
6 Funny Vibe 4:20
7 Memories Can’t Wait (David Byrne, Jerry Harrison) 4:30
8 Broken Hearts 4:50
9 Glamour Boys 3:39
10 What’s Your Favorite Color?(Theme Song)(Reid, Glover) 3:56
11 Which Way to America? 3:41
2002 CD reissue bonus tracks
12 Funny Vibe (Funky Vibe Mix) 3:43
13 Should I Stay or Should I Go (Mick Jones) 2:27
14 What’s Your Favorite Color? (Leblanc Remix) 5:39
15 Middle Man (live at Cabaret Metro, Chicago) 3:49
16 Cult of Personality (live at the Ritz, New York City) 4:59