25 Years Ago: Living Colour’s ‘Time’s Up’ Album Arrives
As an act that dared to rock hard when conventional industry “wisdom” was that black artists were to only perform as R&B singers or rappers, Living Colour stood out like a sore thumb when they emerged in 1988 with their debut album, Vivid.
Aided by benefactors like Mick Jagger and the sonically and visually arresting smash “Cult of Personality” (now known to a new generation as the entrance music for former WWE superstar CM Punk), Vivid eventually became a multi-platinum, Grammy-winning success. By the time the quartet was set to release their sophomore effort, Time’s Up, Living Colour shared a place in the rock firmament with big-name bands like Guns ‘n Roses and Motley Crue, even as their instrumental prowess (spearheaded by guitar God Vernon Reid) gave them a level of critical respect most other bands of that ilk were not afforded.
While Time’s Up didn’t have a hit as big as “Cult of Personality” (or “Glamour Boys,” a later single from Vivid), the album received excellent reviews and boasted a significantly broader sonic breath. Genres of music from blues (“Love Rears Its Ugly Head”) to calypso (“Solace of You”) to speed metal (the frenetic title track) were represented, and likely contributed to broadening the musical palette of the many teenagers who became hooked on Living Colour after catching “Cult” on MTV.
Lyrically, the four members of Living Colour (Reid, vocalist Corey Glover, bassist Muzz Skillings and drummer Will Calhoun) continued to deliver thought-provoking messages about love, romance, politics and race. Topics ranging from safe sex to overzealous hero worship were covered, assisted by a guest roster that included saxophonist Maceo Parker, rock and roll icon Little Richard and rappers Queen Latifah and Doug E. Fresh.
Songs like “Someone Like You” (featuring a verse about police brutality that’s still relevant 25 years later) proved that the band’s desire to deliver messages through their music were even more intense since they tasted success. Critics who scoffed at the “novelty” of a black rock band were confronted head-on with lyrics like “Don't ask me why I play this music/It’s my culture, so naturally I use it / I state my claim to say, it's here for all to play” on "Pride." Fans and writers took notice; legendary rock critic Robert Christgau stated, “though MTV's millions have heard Reid's more panhuman messages before, they've rarely heard them expressed so coherently--or by a black person. Both factors count for something.”
Time’s Up was a gold-selling release that won the Grammy for Best Hard Rock Album of 1990. It also landed Living Colour a coveted Rolling Stone cover. It was the last album made by the band’s original lineup, as Skillings was replaced by veteran Sugar Hill Records/Tackhead bassist Doug Wimbish when Living Colour returned in 1993, with the even more experimental Stain. By the middle of the '90s, Living Colour had gone on hiatus. The band was reactivated in 2003 and have remained an active unit since, releasing two albums of new material and receiving raves for their incendiary live performances.
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