It has been eight years since New York’s Living Colour last released an album, and four years since the release of the group’s sixth record, Shade, was originally announced. After four years of delays, Shade is finally here and it doesn’t disappoint, delivering a fluid, organic blend of blues, funk, hip-hop, hard-rock and metal, much as the band has since they first rose to prominence in the late 1980’s. In fact, Shade’s major departure from Living Colour’s earlier works is in the clarity of the production – courtesy of Andre Betts – which allows each musical element to shine strongly and impress itself upon the listener.
The blues inspired hard-rock of Freedom of Expression (F.O.X) opens the album with a strong swagger, carried along by Vernon Reid’s guitar and Doug Wimbish’s bass, but cemented in its effect by the soulful vocals of Corey Glover and the syncopated drums of Will Calhoun. While the group’s sound is firmly grounded in hard-rock and metal, disparate musical elements are deftly folded into the mix throughout Shade’s thirteen tracks. Come On’s intro of heavily effect guitar borders on electronica in its execution, while the song’s body smoothly shifts between funk and hard-rock, and the ascending bassline at the bridge is sublimely satisfying.
A politically charged rap, referencing black lives matter marches and the inward-looking nature of modern media consumption, seamlessly fits in among the heavy guitar grooves of Program. From emotive growls to high-pitched squeals, Glover’s vocal performance is one that deserves emulation, and the track’s only shortcoming is resorting to a fade-out to conclude. Program’s lyrical concerns are underlined as Living Colour transpose The Notorious B.I.G.’s Who Shot Ya? into a rock context while still managing a few nods to the tracks original hip-hop instrumentation.
Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues is also reworked by the group, as is Robert Johnson’s Preachin’ Blues, both bearing the indelible mark of Living Colour while retaining flavours and textures of the originals. George Clinton of Parliament-Funkadelic fame appears on Two Sides which closes Shade on a mellower, free-jam vibe that effectively emphasizes the quality of Living Colour’s performances on the preceding twelve tracks. Shade stands out as one of the exemplary albums of 2017.