*Retrospective writer Milo here. What you’re about to read is a writing experiment, stream of consciousness in it’s primal form. There’s no structure, I’m not writing to impress — it’s just words on a page, please read it with that mindset.
I was just scrolling through the annals of Stuff And That’s archive, stretching all the way back to 2015, eurgh, oh yes. While I was reading an old top ten, I realised something. There’s no impulse anymore. Damn it, I used to spring shit mid-article, tirades, detours, all kinds of escapades. While I think I’ve come a long way since then, there’s a certain bored predictability in writing a blitz of MMMs and scheduling them every two days for you guys — a routine.
So, fuck it. I’mma spring something. Welcome, to THINKS (yeah, I guess I’m sticking with that name), where I spew up a bunch of words on something I’m thinking about, maybe it’s relevent, maybe not, what’s it to you? The writing rules are out the window, so it might get a bit mental. But I think you can manage, bitch. Please join me as I dip down a vortex of self-indulgence — hell, I might even change my own mind by the end of the article.
Anyway, while I was bleeding from my eyes at my Top Ten Vidja Games from 2016, wondering at the tightness of my jeans and chewing gum that lost its flavour 2 hours ago, I’ve been listening to Stain, Living Colour’s 1993 release, their last before their first break-up. See, the way I listen to music, it’s not special, is that I make a list of all the artists and albums I wanna listen to, and pick from them at random. Many artists have their entire discographies on my list — Living Colour is one such artist.
I’m not done with the band, I gotta say. After being tempted by the riffage of Cult of Personality, I dipped in fully with their 2017 release Shade (I prioritise new albums so I can review them for you guys (ignore the fact that I haven’t actually reviewed a new album this year bar FJM and some fake mini-reviews)). I loved Shade, what a blast of sonic firepower that was, with their cover of Biggie’s Who Shot Ya, blowing me away particularly. I got Reuben on the case immediately, he loved it, got Vivid and got me to listen to it — oh wow cyclical friendships work.
However, as I said in the previous paragraph (proving there’s no structure to these rants), I’m not done with Living Colour. After Shade, I listened to 2003’s Collidescope, which I didn’t mind at all, a cover of Back In Black, ain’t gonna complain. Then I listened to Vivid. I was pretty hype. After all, Cult of Personality is a massive tune, and it was produced by Mick Jagger — a man I love and love to impersonate badly. But, wait what? It didn’t blow me away. There’s something weird afoot.
Everything was there, the heavy, distorted riffs, Corey Glover’s soulful screams — all accounted for. That said, I was getting a similar feeling to the first time I heard Faith No More’s The Real Thing, there’s a bit of gimmickiness to it, the choruses hit me as novel rather than hard-hitting. I do love The Real Thing now, though, so maybe it’s a time thing.
The riffs though, as heavy and distorted as they are, they go the wrong way, they’re unpredictable in a bad way. The songwriting feels a bit weak and meandering, not as solid as Cult of Personality.
Since then, I’ve come to Stain — and it’s still there. Sure, this isn’t their most widely-lauded album — who are we kidding here? But everything’s still off. This time, it’s the rhythm section I have quarrels with — it’s mixed like a steel boxing trophy violating my eardrums — with bass like that I thought I was listening to Korn, for fuck’s sake. The drums, as accomplished as they are, are riffing on time signatures where it’s not needed, calm down (googling the drummer’s name) Will, Jesus, Will, you’re not Dave Grohl, Will, you’re not Herb, Will. Jesus, Will.
This brings me to my first quarrel with Living Colour:
Are they prog?!?!?!
I know what you’re thinking. “Milo, you fracking digit, Living Colour are listed on Wikipedia as being Rock (with a capital r), hard rock, funk metal and alternative metal, and thus must be so”. I counteract your argument, dear reader, with shut up you’re not real and you’re the reason I take my meds so stop okay they taste like rain. ALSO, Living Colour, where are the funk. WHERE. ARE. THE FUNK. Yep, that’s grammar now, this is bebop writing, son.
Seriously though, it takes more than some prominent bass and some melanin to be funky — musically funky, I mean — and, in my opinion, I don’t think Living Colour have it. They’re heavy, they’re riffy, but not particularly funky. They’re groovy, the bass walks along with it. But I just don’t think, of what I’ve heard, the band have that purple love juice that infects a funky track.
Now, I like Red Hot Chili Peppers and that’s real funk. I’m no funk expert, but I like my James Brown, P-Funk, Prince etc. — that’s where the juice is. We’ve had some drips of it in Living Colour’s discography, but not enough to list them under it as a sub-category. There’d be more sense in listing Metallica as avant-garde because of Lulu.
However, what’s becoming more apparent, with Stain particularly, is that they dabble in a couple of, while not groundbreaking, definitely progressive elements. The wobbly time-signatures, multi-layered wondering guitar leads, and hellish bass sound of a song like Auslander hit my ear like a lovechild between Primus, Guns N Roses and Porcupine Tree, while the percussive industrial breakdown sounds like a interlude from Rammstein. This pervades quite a bit of their work, moreso than the funk in my opinion. Moreover, I like me a bit of prog, I’m no deep-knee-ed prog enthusiast, but i am partial, so it’s the not that which turns me off.
It’s the fact that that’s not advertised or acknowledged by the band. I didn’t go into Living Colour thinking I was getting progressive, I went in there looking for some heavy funky political hard rock — I’m not prepped, I wasn’t ready. It doesn’t seem like Living Colour are ready either, as they get to their choruses, which can be almost primitive in comparison, in what sounds like a sigh of relief. This eclecticness should feel more rewarding than it does with Living Colour, and they should play into it more.
I’m happy I mentioned the politics actually, buckle up fool.
Are they problematic?? Or proglematic, because of the prog. I do make myself laugh…
Now, I don’t bring politics to Stuff And That when I can — I’m writing silly bits about music and movies for flip’s sake. However, as Living Colour BROUGHT IT UP (damn it), it’s unavoidable. Full disclaimer, I consider myself an idyllic liberal capitalist, which might seem a contradiction. Basically, on human rights and ethical issues, I’m heavily liberal, and identify particularly strongly with gender-based and LGBTQ+ issues, although I’m an overwhelming supporter of free speech, and think that discussion overrules censorship in every way. However, I do see the merits of a capitalist society, as I’m essentially a supporter of the media, doing what I do, which is a product of a capitalist society — I’m led to believe. Fair market and all that, I agree with, but monopolization. globalization and other expressions of corporate greed are shits and bad (net neutrality anyone). I think I’ve spewed my limited political awareness and alignments onto the table for everyone to gawk at.
Both sides of my political coin, the liberal and the capitalist (band name), are relevant here in different ways. I asked the question at the top whether or not Living Colour are problematic. This is a bit of an overstatement, I can admit. Let the record show, in terms of black representation in a very white environment, especially back in the 80s, Living Colour are iconic and very important. Though black musicians formed the very basis of rock music, and pervaded it throughout the years, from Little Richard, to Jimi, to today and exciting artists like Fantastic Negrito, to be a full black rock band is something of an anomaly — and that’s awful, but it’s also true, as black musicians were, particularly from the 70s, 80s and 90s, “relegated” to hip-hop or R&B (lest we forget Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Song was called “Hot Black Music” until 1990). So we have that.
This brings me back to Stain, and the song Bi. Now, before we get into it, context matters, it was a time, it was 25 years ago. I’m reminded of the first time I watched Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, he launched into a 10-minute routine about how “faggots always looking to fuck me” or something to the same extent — and I was instantly uncomfortable (thank God his James Brown impression won me over). But the crowd loved it and he is a legend — time matters. With Bi, Living Colour get funky (well fucking how about that), the porno grooves of the bass and tight little guitars are reflected in the string-vest orgy of the video. The lyrics, though they seem to promote bisexuality, present it in the most tone-deaf, tunnel-visioned, hetero-scoped manner possible — check it out:
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
Poetry it may be, it boils an entire identity (I was literally about to write sub-genre like a fucking fool) down to “hey my girlfriend’s bi and she’s seeing my side-piece too — how ironic”. Plus, the whole goofy, funky feel of the track seems like a joke with being bi as the punchline. It also promotes, in a subconscious way, a level of bi denial that still plagues the LGBTQ+ community today. As I was researching this, I found an old quote from Corey Glover that I think is relevant, but questionable. Criticising Axl Rose’s controversial song One In A Million (from GNR Lies), which infamously contained the words “nigger” and “faggot”, Glover said:
Look, if you don’t have a problem with gay people, then don’t call them ‘faggots.’ If you don’t have a problem with black people, then don’t call them ‘niggers.’ I never met a nigger in my life. Peace.
I’m not going to comment on it because I’m not sure how I feel about it myself.
This is possibly me reading into it a bit deeply, I do trip on an over-sensitivity wire from time-to-time. The only reason I say that is Janelle Monae’s Make Me Feel, a Prince-inspired disco anthem to being queer, is a fucking bop in my opinion and, the more I think about it, the more it says a similar statement to Bi. I TOLD YOU THERE WAS NO STRUCTURE MATEEEEEE, how ironic.
Honestly, I was about to launch into another tirade about the band’s RATM-like political alignments and motifs (that’s why I mentioned both sides of my “political coin” (whatta dick)). However, I don’t think it’s really relevant to me not liking them — I kinda dig it. Also, no one wants this article carnage (articarnage) to go on past 200 words.
Living Colour are a fine band. I’m a bit tired, but I know that much. I think I’ve boiled down my own thoughts writing this article, actually, so that’s quite.. um.. centering in a way, who’d’ve thunk it, or THINKd it (trademarked). My main quarrels with Living Colour is their genre, their hidden eccentricities that don’t fit in their puzzle, which some might find fascinating and take to better, and a certain outdated-ness that is reminiscent of an underlying homophobic problem in the history of black music that we seem to brush over, such as NWA’s liberal use of “faggot”, or even Tribe (no, not Tribe, God, no) and their buried album track Georgie Porgie (which was reworked into the classic Show Business). As a lover of both queer and black culture, it makes me uncomfortable, that’s all I’mma say (before I get onto the other issue of historical misogyny in gay culture, yeesh, just leave each other alone (big talk from the white guy)). But, all in all in all, Living Colour, you’re alright.
Right then, that’s the first THINKS — done. We got surprisingly political, hope I don’t turn any of ya off. However, it was cathartic to write without a structure, vomiting out sentences non-stop, and I hope it was, if not traditionally interesting because of the subject matter, at least fascinating to see a writer lose his shit and have a breakdown.
If you did enjoy it or have any words of wisdom, do leave a comment. With new series like this, it’s nice to get a feel of what you guys are thinking.
I’m so sorry.
Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations