Living Colour

Epic Records, 1993

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


Although the 90s were a golden period for grunge music, it was great for rock music in general. There is no doubt that grunge records dwarfed everything else that was created during the decade. But the parallel non-grunge alternative music scene produced stunning rock albums that were as monumental in influencing the 90s rock sound as grunge: Gentlemen (The Afghan Whigs), Angel Dust (Faith No More), Bloodsugarsexmagik (Red Hot Chilli Peppers), and Stain.

There was never any second thought on Living Colour's musical brilliance, and the band had been making superb rock albums ever since they debuted with Vivid. But on Stain, the group shows a completely new level of maturity. This is the hardest and the most thought provoking of the group's first three records.

Stain captures the genuine brute aggression that grunge acts possessed and portrayed so effortlessly, and finds Living Colour at its darkest and edgiest self. The band's messages of social consciousness on its previous two efforts were never as in-your-face as they are on Stain, where the outcry is rasping, acerbic, and stinging like never before.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

On "Go Away," the band's recurring theme of Africa comes up again, but this time the anger's worse than ever, and the song's heavy with bitterness; the chorus "I see the starving Africans on TV / I feel it has nothing to do with me / I sent my twenty dollars to Live Aid / I've paid my guilty conscience to go away," gives an idea of the song's rancor. The same goes with "Ignorance Is Bliss" where the words are as caustic - "Living with myself is hard enough / So I get away when things get rough / Famine, strife, and thoughts of war / Matter less than the dress she wore / Ignorance is bliss / Problems solved with just one kiss," and the furiousness is just as intense.

Living Colour records generally contain an odd love song in between their messages of social outrage, just to lighten things up a little bit with a theme that's hard to resist even for a band like this. Unlike the straightforward cuts of heartbreak on its predecessors (notably "Broken Hearts" on Vivid and "Love Rears Its Ugly Head" on Time's Up), Stain, takes the "love" theme to raunchier extent, with "Bi," a track - as the name suggests - on bisexuality that's humorous and shamelessly real ("My lover told me, well, that she's bi / I wanted to scream, there were tears in my eyes / She said baby, baby, don't you cry /'Cause the one I am with, you've been seeing on the side"), which has a perfect outro with some cheesy hip-hop beats thrown in by guest producer Andre Betts.

The random experimentation with hip-hop and Betts' appearance resurface on "WTFF," which is Stain's answer to Time's Up's "Ology," a 2:15 piece of random guitars tossed into hardcore hip-hop beats reminiscent of "Jump" by one-hit wonder Kris Kross, which comes across as a nice change of pace towards the end of the record.

The more eccentric second half of Stain features the only two mellow cuts on this record, "Nothingness" and "Hemp." Probably one of Living Colour's best tracks ever, "Nothingness," a poignant song about loss and death, is simple in contrast to the record's ubiquitous hard-edged sound, with no extravagant guitar-hooks or solos, only beautifully laden synth-guitar whiffs accompanied with bass and drums. "Hemp" is a moody poetic narration, also adorned and made magical by the psychedelic synth-guitar giving a dramatic edge to the strangely spoken words.

All of Living Colour's records are nothing less than exceptional, and so it is a hard task to compare one with any of the others. But having said that, Stain was a part of one of the most treasured periods of rock. Hence, it will always be a special record in Living Colour's catalog.

Rating: A

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© 2006 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.