Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"This is the Life" / Living Colour / TIme's Up

This is probably one of the more obscure songs you'll see on this blog. It's the last song on Living Color's second CD, Time's Up which came out 20 years ago (!).

You remember Living Color from their classic hit "Cult of Personality". They arrived with quite some fanfare back in the late 80's. Cory Glover had quite a set of pipes and a beautiful set of dreads, guitarist Vernon Reid was hailed as a quasi-genius and the inheritor of Jimi Hendrix's instrumental wizardry, oh, and did I mention they were a black metal band?

Look, I'm not calling these guys a gimmick. They were a solid group, but I think that much of their media attention came from the fact that they were black folks playing traditionally white music for a white audience. They weren't the only ones, however, there was a small window when there was a burgeoning movement of black rock bands - in addition to Living Color there was Fishbone, 24-7 Spyz, and one of my all-time local favorites, Atlanta's Follow For Now. Not much came of it; the "movement" seemed to be more media-created than anything else, but we still were left with some solid music.

This album is, for some reason, inextricably linked with my freshman year in college. Of course, this is when it was released, but it seems to be a touchtone album of that time for me. I hardly ever listen to it anymore, as it's severely dated in both sound and production, but I remember loving it at the time. Let's recall that in 1990 Hair Metal was still king (I remember Sebastian Bach on the cover of Rolling Stone around this time), and although Living Color seemed to me more substantial than Warrant, Slaughter and the like, they were definitely tied to that genre.

Time's Up, looking back on it now, has some good songs. The title and leadoff track is a little slice of Slayeresque speed metal (with a Rush riff thrown in the middle for good measure), "Pride" is an Afrocentric polemic which touches on their identity as a black band ("Don't ask me why I play this music / 'cause it's my culture, so naturally I choose it"), "Love Rears Up It's Ugly Head" is probably my favorite tune on the album, a stripped down slice of neo-soul with an intro from Nat King Cole's "Lush Life", "Solace of You" has a light, sweet West African feel, the MTV hit and first single "Type" and second single and goofy gimmick-hit "Elvis is Dead" - all decent stuff. I can't say that it's an album I pull out often, if at all, to listen to, but I'm not skipping a track if one comes up on random.

"This is the Life" is the album closer and is a little bit more introspective (and, in my opinion, more ponderous and plodding) than the remainder of the album. It's probably best they saved it for last. It begins with some strange, almost tribal dissonance from Glover and Reid and the song proper really doesn't start until a minute and a half in. Glover really dials back his register to sing in a low, atonal whine which makes his grand release in the chorus nicely effective. Unfortunately, that vocal in the chorus is the best part of the song. The music never really makes any interesting changes, just stayting mostly in the same key and tempo (save Reid's solo, those are always fun to hear).

Lyrically, it's a nice, however trite message - accept the life you have; don't waste your time by wishing for something else or lamenting how things could be different, the grass isn't always greener, blah, blah blah. I have to give them credit, though, for the final verse as a nice way to end not just a song, but an album:

In your real life
Treat it like it’s special
In your real life
Try to be more kind
In your real life
Think of those that love you
In this real life
Try to be less blind