Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Living Colour

  • Vivid [Epic, 1988] B
  • Time's Up [Epic, 1990] A-
  • Biscuits [Epic, 1991] Choice Cuts
  • Stain [Epic, 1993] A-
  • Collideoscope [Sanctuary, 2003] *
  • The Chair in the Doorway [Megaforce, 2009] **
  • Shade [Megaforce, 2017] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Vivid [Epic, 1988]
A few songs--the just-minding-my-own-business-sucker "Funny Vibe," the Mick Jagger production/tribute "Glamour Boys," and "Middle Man" if it's as unironic as I hope--are smart enough, but while it's momentarily exhilarating to hear this all-black band come power-chording out of the box, after a while the fancy arrangements and strained soul remind me of, I don't know, Megadeth. Like any New Hendrix, Vernon Reid is only as good as his last context, and I'm not positive crossover metal is a good idea even in theory. B

Time's Up [Epic, 1990]
The latest target of the black superman theory won't write history like Harold Cruse and spout Afrology like Robert Farris Thompson any more than Darryl Strawberry will act the mensch like Don Baylor and hit .330 like Rod Carew. That's not his job--leading an arena band is different, and plenty difficult. It's amazing enough for a jazz musician like Vernon Reid to make the transition to pop accessibility, proving that even art-rock can signify with the best album in that meaning-laden genre since Pink Floyd was in mourning. Though the striking choruses and fancy structures are pretty Euro, the proximate model is Bad Brains sans Jah. And though MTV's millions have heard Reid's more panhuman messages before, they've rarely heard them expressed so coherently--or by a black person. Both factors count for something. A-

Biscuits [Epic, 1991]
"Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing" Choice Cuts

Stain [Epic, 1993]
The best thing about this excellent record is how hard it crunches. From the antiliberal "Go Away" to the propansexual "Bi," the first four songs combine simplicity and smarts like no big-guitar music since vintage Aerosmith, and these smarts ain't stoopid. After that the songwriting dips some, although God knows they write about alienation as knowledgeably as any college-rock band. The weak link is Corey Glover, who still sings too well for his own good (cf. Jack Bruce). The fresh blood is Doug Wimbish, who still plays great (also cf. Jack Bruce). A-

Collideoscope [Sanctuary, 2003]
Hard 'n' conscious guitar 'n' bass ("Back in Black," "A ? of When"). *

The Chair in the Doorway [Megaforce, 2009]
Great players and unusually reliable thinkers, they still have something to prove and more to teach, especially to the hard-rock faithful ("Asshole," "Burned Bridges"). **

Shade [Megaforce, 2017]
Chops undiminished, vocals weathered by age, wisdom for some reason muted ("Inner City Blues," "Freedom of Expression [F.O.X.]") *