“Vivid” by Living Colour (No. 92)

How much was I into Living Colour‘s 1998 debut album, Vivid? I was willing to go to a concert with my mother just because Living Colour was the opening band.

Sure, you think, that doesn’t sound so bad. But at 19, going to a Rolling Stones concert with my mother and two of her friends was the pinnacle of things I definitely didn’t want to do. And yet, I girded myself for the inevitable embarrassing spectacle of my mother screaming her head off in public at Mick Jagger, just so I’d get to catch like 40 minutes of Living Colour from nosebleed seats. Yeah, it was worth it.

If you’ve been following along at home with my top 100, it should come as no surprise that my introduction to Living Colour came from MTV. “Cult of Personality,” a powerful song that has some amazing guitar shredding by Vernon Reid, and amazing vocals by Corey Glover. “Cult” was every bit as hard as other metal bands of the era, but managed to remain accessible at the same time.

Spoiler alert: Many of the tracks on Vivid are along the same vein – melodic as all hell, but also full of hard-core guitar work courtesy of Reid, and complex and interesting bass and drums.

That’s not to say there’s no respite on the album. “Broken Hearts” is the album’s standout love song that takes down the volume and lets Muzz Skillings bass work shine a bit. But it’s not the cookie-cutter 80s power ballad that most hard rock bands had to serve up on cue to make the fans and labels happy.

What Vivid has that many metal albums lacked, aside from a social conscience and vocalist with honest-to-goodness range and delivery, is a dexterity and complexity that holds up over hundreds of listens. A little funk, some hip-hop/rap for good measure, and a set of songs that are in no way formulaic.

The only cut on the album that I’d cut, if forced, is “What’s Your Favorite Color?” – it clocks in under two minutes, and is fine but forgettable.

Vivid closes with “Which Way to America?”, a song that calls out the disparity between white and black America – a gap that, sadly, hasn’t really closed in nearly 30 years since Vivid hit shelves. Here, Glover really goes into metal mode, tearing into the chorus while the rest of the band burns the track to the ground.

I also enjoyed 1993’s Stain, and have checked a few of the band’s later albums – but none have hit the spot quite so thoroughly as Vivid. This one is a gem, and it’s a worth a listen for anyone who enjoys intelligent hard rock.

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