2003 / Music

Review: Living Colour, Sevendust Stumble Together

’90s Band, Musical Progeny Return With New Albums

Read The Reviews: Sevendust | Living Colour

For all the accolades they might receive later in life, being a musical trendsetter isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Not only must you swim upstream and fight to advance your music while everyone else is telling you to do the opposite, but success — if it ever comes — brings a whole other batch of problems. The most grating of which is likely suffering the copycats and all those artists that sully your claim to fame.

Think of how much horrible music was inspired by the rock’s leading lights. For every “Strawberry Fields Forever,” there’s a “Journey to the Center of the Mind” by the Amboy Dukes. Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” gave us Barry Maguire’s “Eve Of Destruction.” David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” would eventually birth Poison’s “Talk Dirty To Me.”

Living Colour, an all-black, New York-based band, tried to turn the glam-metal-dominated rock world on its head in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and nearly did. The group simultaneously made great strides in breaking down the color barrier in rock music and they helped clear the way for the coming of alternative rock.

Less than a decade after Living Colour exploded on the scene, Atlanta interracial combo Sevendust became one of metal’s most tauted young bands and remains posed for superstardom.

As for how Living Colour feels about their musical progeny, vocalist Corey Glover seems content, saying in a recent interview, “We are a part of a line that continues on with Sevendust, Rage Against The Machine, POD, Incubus and other bands. We were not the first to start it and definitely won’t be the last.”

Both Sevendust and Living Colour have released new albums. Find out how this father and son pair faired. Keep reading.

Sevendust “Seasons”

If you’ve listened to hard rock/metal radio lately, you can’t escape Sevendust.

Photo: TVT Records

Photo: TVT Records

Similar-sounding rivals like Staind, Puddle of Mudd, Godsmack and POD have connected with big hits in recent years, but Sevendust has remained close behind by emphasizing their unique strengthens and sticking with their own formula: a relentless, driving grooves, the thundering wall of guitars and the low croon-to-howl vocals of frontman Lajon Witherspoon.

“Seasons,” the group’s fourth record, seems specifically designed to break through and put the band on equal footing with the other new gods of metal.

The album’s big-ticket single, “Enemy,” features the band’s slickest-sounding chorus. Yet this radio-friendly idea is unwisely offset by the fact that Witherspoon barks like Pantera’s Phil Anselmo during the tune’s verses. What metal radio programmer is gonna put that on the air?

All in all, the band’s new emphasis on accessiblity isn’t necessarily a mark against “Seasons.” It’s how repetitive and seemingly flawless (productionwise) the record is.

Apart from Witherspoon’s vocals, one might not know living, breathing people were playing the instruments. In their ceaseless pursuit of the heaviest groove, the band seems to have lost sight of the idea of injecting humanity into their music, of stopping the thunderous riffs for a moment, or taking the music in an unexpected direction.

In the end, this acute perfection and pristine sonic consistency gets old. Five songs in and it sounds like you’ve heard most of the rest of the album already.

While “Seasons” is digestible enough to keep the band’s music in heavy rotation, its songs still lack that proper mix of sing-along choruses and concussive riffs that will make metal’s elite see Sevendust as something more than their musical kid brother.

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Living Colour “Collideoscope”

Back in the pre-Nirvana, hair-metal-infested dark ages of the late ’80s and early ’90s, New York’s Living Colour enjoyed a brief reign as hard rock’s great, er, black hope.

Hailed by critics and fellow musicians alike and showered with Grammy awards, the band created rock that bravely drew from an array of musical forms fused with Jimmy Page-style guitar crunch and politically and socially biting lyrics that at their best, could make you stop headbanging for a moment and ponder the world at large.

At the group’s commercial zenith, however, it was the eternally amiable Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead who proved to be the most astute critic and unknowing seer of the band’s future.

Remarking on the band in a 1991 interview in Rolling Stone, Garcia said, “Living Colour is a great band. Their whole approach is interesting, but they’re short on melodies … That’s a tough space where they are right now; I think the most talented guy in the band is going to look to break out if the band doesn’t go somewhere.”

Four short years later, Garcia’s prediction came true when Living Colour founder/guitarist Vernon Reid quietly dissolved the group. As one record label remarked at the time, the group had become “four guys with five opinions.”

After the 1995 breakup, the group members went their separate ways. Reid chased his ambition, busying himself with production duties and the release of a grossly underrated solo album. His former compatriots faired poorly, exploring a series of tuneless and increasingly irrelevant solo projects. By the dawn of the new century, however, even Reid was beginning to see diminishing returns (creatively as well as financially) and the band reunited for some gigs in late 2000.

Two years later, the band has released “Collideoscope,” its first album of new material since 1993’s “Stain,” a post-grunge homage to heavy rock and personal dysfunction.

Despite the passage of time, “Collideoscope” in many ways is also an album of personal dysfunction. But instead of it being the record’s common theme, “Collideoscope” is defined by its dysfunction, or rather the band’s. It seems the group’s internal power struggles and eclectic approach has got the better of them and caused the group to crank out the worst album of their careers.

As is evident in many of the interviews the band members have done to promote “Collideoscope,” their music is the product of a contest of wills. But instead of benefiting from multiple opinions, these songs seem to languish in a musical middle ground between the conflicting ideas. This music is banal and the lyrics lack any brilliant insights. There’s no sense of adventure to these songs — that the band is pushing the musical envelope — which was what made Living Colour an exciting listen back in their glory days.

Instead, this album succeeds in bringing out the band’s worst aspects: their didacticism, their shotty lyric-writing, and the aforementioned lack of melodicisim.

Most of these songs never rise above mediocrity. Tracks like “A ? Of When,” “Song Without Sin,” “In Your Name” or “Great Expectations” are based around rather ordinary guitar riffs. And that’s not taking into account the lyrics that while taking a decided anti-Bush, anti-Big Business stance, come across as a collection of monotonous slogans. Equally disconcerting is the inclusion of two dismal covers, AC/DC’s “Back In Black” and the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” While “Back In Black” is so loyally done that it begs whether a redo was really necessary, “Tomorrow Never Knows” is just an opportunity for the group to pile on the studio’s digital effects.

Not surprisingly, “Collideoscope” is at its best when the band is expanding its hard rock oeuvre. There’s the dub-reggae swing of “Nightmare City,” (featuring some sweet Wailers-like angelic background harmonies) and “Holy Roller,” a blues-rock romp that includes organ licks from former E Street Band keyboardist David Sancious. Reid, whose playing up until then is surprisingly uninspired, delivers a lovely understated solo on the latter.

So many of the songs on “Collideoscope” beg its listeners to wake up, to recognize the world’s evils and fix them. What’s needed now is for Living Colour to wake, up, take a long, hard look in the mirror and fix themselves.

For More Info:

Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2003 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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