The melodic metal band Living Colour made quite a splash in 1988, and I was certain back then they were headed straight toward superstardom. Their debut album Vivid not only had the infectious "Cult of Personality" but also the defiant "Open Letter (To a Landlord)" and the cheeky "Glamour Boys."
A quartet bristling with talent like avant-garde guitar virtuoso Vernon Reid and a bonafide charismatic frontman in Corey Glover, Living Colour's rhythm section was nothing to sneeze at either, with Will Calhoun on drums and Muzz Skillings - who was eventually replaced by the even better Doug Wimbish - on bass. Together, the band broke down racial barriers in rock that somehow persisted, despite the obvious importance of icons like Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone.
Following up with the wild, wide-ranging Time's Up (still my favorite) and the more serious minded Stain, Living Colour called it quits in 1995 before regrouping for 2004's Collideoscope. Five years later on Sept. 15, 2009, they came back again with The Chair In the Doorway.
Recorded in Prague, The Chair In the Doorway was their first album for Megaforce Records, the home of Metallica, the Black Crowes and Anthrax - and their most straight-ahead heavy album since, maybe, ever. That is to say, with only a few exceptions, the metal vibe stays the same throughout. Living Colour has always drawn much of their inspiration from East Coast punk-reggae legends Bad Brains (another African-American rock band co-founded by a fusion guitarist), but on The Chair In the Doorway that influence might be more up front and center - as are the sounds of their new label mates.
Living Colour remains at the core a serious-minded band, singing about topical themes with more depth than most rock bands are known to do, even today. But in contrast to the early era where the subjects were confronted directly in first person and without any doubt to their meaning ("Funny Vibe," "Elvis Is Dead"), the subject matter on The Chair In the Doorway seemed to make a broader critique of today's society in often oblique ways. And it was nearly always angry or dark, matching the gloom metal overtones of the music.
"Burned Bridges," "The Chair," "DecaDance," "Method,""Hard Times," and "Out of My Mind" all fall under that formula. The confidence of a "Young Man" was a fascinating reflection coming from guys who aren't that young anymore. "Behind the Sun" was the album's advance single - and even with Vernon Reid's fleet-fingered tapping, it comes off as the most soulful of the bunch. That's mainly a product of Corey Glover's vocals, still powerful and expressive decades later.
"That's What You Taught Me" likewise was a song with broader appeal, with the metal quotient toned down enough to reveal an arresting melody. The Chair In the Doorway then ended with a "hidden" track not referred to on the album sleeve. After the droning, psychedelic blues of "No Tomorrow" came what may be the best track on the whole album: "A**hole," which reminds us of what Living Colour is capable of when they blend catchy hooks, power riffs and put-down humor into an tight, irresistible package.
Too bad the prevalent use of a FCC-defined naughty word kept this one off the radio waves. "A**hole" is an all-to-brief reminder of the fun element that Living Colour always so deftly combined with their "music with a message" stance. If there's a complaint here, it's only that Living Colour could have tried to find their inner child a little more on The Chair In the Doorway.