Three decades on, Vivid is still one of the most indispensable albums in rock – not only by virtue of its ultra juicy production, but because Living Colour approached its writing with a distinct ‘fuck you’ attitude. They were fusing rock, jazz, metal and funk in a way that polarised critics with its sheer dexterity, and they were unafraid to point fingers – index and middle – at political issues that other bands were too cowardly to tackle.
“We were prepared to stand on our own,” says frontman and sole remaining founder Vernon Reid. “We weren’t trying to sound like anybody else; we weren’t trying to be anything else than what we were. Our conversation was a different conversation because we were talking about things that were very, very real for us.
“A song like ‘Which Way To America’… Part of what motivates a singer to scream is that self-imposed question of, ‘This is just what rockstars do, right?’ And that’s cool, but part of what motivates Corey Glover to scream in a song like ‘Which Way To America’ is, ‘This is fucking insane. What we’re going through right now is insane.’ So the scream may sound the same, but the motivation behind it is very different. And that’s what gives Vivid a verisimilitude, or a sense of reality.”
It’s in that reality that Vivid remains, for better or for worse, so germane in our current societal landscape. Neo-nazis were a thing in 1988, but they weren’t so widely accepted in otherwise progressive circles – you didn’t see them chumming up with panelists on Sky News, no less. Rent prices were deplorable, but they weren’t so dire that a one-bedroom apartment with blood-stained walls would run a tight million in Sydney.
“It’s a double-edged sword because it’s great to still be relevant 30 years on, but it’s also a pyrrhic victory – it sucks that gentrification is still happening, and it sucks that ‘Open Letter (to a landlord)’ is more relevant now than it was even back then,” says Reid. “It sucks even more that ‘Funny Vibe’ is more relevant than it was. ‘Cult Of Personality’ will always be a thing as well, because there’s always going to be some charismatic, smiling dude that’s going to come along and bully the people below him. So it’s a funny place to be. On one hand, it’s very cool that younger people such as yourself are going, ‘You know what? This shit is real.’ But it’s a weird thing to have all these problems that we sang about only get worse after 30 years.”
Living Colour are set to bring Vivid back to Australia this December for its 30th anniversary, where they’ll be performing highlights from the record (Reid points to ‘Broken Hearts’ and ‘Memories Can’t Wait’ as the jams he’s most excited for) alongside a full spate of fan favourites. A brief mention of the tour has the New Yorker buzzing with nostalgic glee.
“I’ve had a great affection for Australian music. The Divinyls, oh my God – rest in peace, Chrissy Amphlett. But man, ‘Science Fiction’ – that was my theme song when that record came out. So I mean, it’s somewhat cliché, but I have a weird personal connection to Australian culture. It’s always great to be back. And I know that right now, there’s a lot of crazy stuff going on in Australia, and we want to be there for people.”
That’s an understatement. Australia’s political atmosphere is nothing short of a shitshow and in more ways than one, Vivid is an album that brilliantly personifies our current dilemmas. Reid is quick to acknowledge the clusterfuck.
“That’s something Australia needs to sort out with itself. Everyone is trying to figure out their identity – who they are, where they want to go, and what they mean. And as a country, Australia has to ask itself collectively, ‘Do we want to repeat the real, terrible things of our past, or are we prepared to move forward?’ America is going through a very similar thing, but it’s a stark question for Australia to have to answer for itself.”
Living Colour are touring Australia throughout December.