Music Review: Living Colour – The Chair in the Doorway

Hi there!

In 1989, I was just starting college and Living Colour’s Vivid hit the airwaves. To this day, when I hear “Cult of Personality” on the radio, I have to crank it. There’s something about the mix of funk, metal, and socially-conscious lyrics that hasn’t lost its punch even 20 years later.

[amazon-product]B002GSXJKC[/amazon-product]But after Vivid, I have to say I lost touch with Living Colour. So when I saw that The Chair in the Doorway was to be released, I was a bit surprised, but happy – a bit like finding a long, lost friend after a good chunk of time has passed. They sound just as good as they did 20 years ago and rock just as hard.

The band consists of Corey Glover on guitars and vocals, Vernon Reid on lead guitar, Doug Wimbish on bass, and Will Calhoun on drums. Though Vivid was recorded with bassist Muzz Skillings, who left the band in 1992 and was replaced by Doug Wimbish, the sound hasn’t changed for me. They all have amazing musical chops and the ability to create riffs easy to lose yourself in.

It wasn’t until I started really listening to the lyrics that I started to wonder at the direction of the album. In the CD booklet, at the bottom of the 2nd page, is a very simple dedication: “This record is dedicated to the fallen & the lost among us.” And in this time of doubt, economic, and environmental troubles, it’s interesting to hear songs of those of us lost along this very rocky road.

Though I tend to be what I’d call an optimistic realist and have my own moments of hopelessness in the chaos of living as we all do, I have to wonder if Living Colour has swung the pendulum too far. Though the music holds the same amazing funky beats and screaming guitars as they did in the late ’80s, the lyrics have slipped over the edge of the socially consciousness into a pit of despair.

Starting with “Burned Bridges,” the lost and those about to be take center stage: “I’ve done things to myself / that I cannot forgive / I’ve given up everything / just so that I could live / I searched the whole world over / for the thing I cannot find / no one cares about my thoughts / so I guess I’ll lose my mind.” Where is the hope here? There must be help for the helpless or the goodness of man has failed us one final time.

In “Method,” things are just as bleak: “Hell is frozen / crashing dreams / cities imploding / world unseen…” Here again is the unraveling of our environment as we just don’t give a damn… “Don’t you know / the damned don’t cry…” Is our world really this far gone?

And then in “Out of My Mind,” another straw breaks us in this serenade of depression. “I thought I had control / I found I lost my soul / I can’t get out of this hole…” Hopelessness reigns supreme.

Though I point out the lack of hope in these lyrics, I have to talk about the other side of the equation. Yes, they’re depressing, but the music – this fusion of jazz, rock, reggae, and passion – almost made me not hear the sadness. These guys have arranged some simply amazing, hard rocking tunes that keep you tapping your toes as your mind tries to assimilate the meaning behind the words.

I don’t know what happened to Living Colour between Vivid and The Chair in the Doorway, but I’m a bit confused. There’s a difference between pointing out social iniquities of the world around us and rocking us as they do it and trying to slip some of this depressing, yet beautiful poetry through the cracks. I can’t say I’m not enjoying the album – but it’s definitely not the happiest music I’ve heard in a while.

The interesting thing will be seeing what will get released to the radio as singles in an era of cheery, almost vapid pop teenage-themed anthems. Perhaps the negativity of this album will cancel out the overwhelming positivity of recent shiny hopeful pop artists and we’ll end up somewhere in the happy medium?

Check out The Chair in the Doorway at your favorite online or brick-and-mortar retailer and make your own decision. I’m going to continue to rock out and try to forget the words.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other Living Colour albums from Amazon.com below!

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