festival feature: living colour’s ‘vivid’ is as revolutionary now as it was 25 years ago. #soundcheck

August 14, 2013

It’s truly weird to think of Vivid turning 25. I remember being a kid and “Cult of Personality” was everywhere. It was the first song I remember liking; not because my parents liked it and played it. Not because my older sister sat me down and told me I liked it. No-one influenced the decision. Vernon Reid’s face-melting guitar, Corey Glover’s bombastic voice. Even as a kid, I knew. What else do you need? Consequently I have no objective opinions about Vivid.

25 years in, and it’s almost surprising how well the album has held up, despite it’s oh-so-80’s production. It’s undeniably a product of it’s time, but it doesn’t sound dated. It hails from an era where artists began to expand the palette of hard rock to include sounds not just rooted in Zeppelin and Sabbath. Vivid ended up forming the backbone of the nascent Alternative Metal scene. The interplay between original bassist Muzz Skillings and drummer Will Calhoon would lead the band through half a dozen genres in the span of a single verse before emerging on the other side with some straight-ahead hard rock.

Funk influences pop out throughout, though it takes until track 5, the devastating “Open Letter (To A Landlord)” for Skillings to lay down a truly funky bass line. Though the neighborhoods Corey Glover sings about in “Open Letter” have long been developed within an inch of their lives, the process of gentrification the song puts a human price on is as timely as ever. It’s rare that the more social-commentary rooted tracks on an album should be the ones that hold up the best (the well-intentioned but almost comically naïve “can’t we all just love each other, man?” mars countless classic 60’s records). But the band is their most focused when spitting fire as on the Public Enemy-assisted “Funny Vibe” and the great album closer “Which Way to America?” (OK fine, the VCR line is a little dated, but the sentiment isn’t. Change it to DVR in your head. At least it’s not Betamax?)

It’s hard to hear the album for how revolutionary it sounded when it first came out, now that it’s sound has been more or less picked clean by tens of thousands of college funk-metal bands. But when Corey Glover screams “I want to know how to get to your America,” there’s a passion and earnestness that’s still rare. The 2002 CD reissue includes some unnecessary additions, though the Public Enemy-led reinterpretation of “Funny Vibe” is definitely worth hearing.

Living Colour has been playing Vivid in it’s entirety on tour, and will be playing at Afropunk Fest in 2 weeks. Don’t miss it.

– Words by Nathan Leigh

* Living Colour will play AFROPUNK Festival 2013. To RSVP or Make a Donation to AFROPUNK Fest 2013, click HERE.