Back when this Blog was first devised, it was sort of a hub “digest” of all my various internet output, under one easy “roof.” So people could then tell that my things were not stolen from elsewhere on the internet, I kept my net-handle in the title. The name of my net-handle was simply chosen because I enjoy the Prog band King Crimson (and Gentle Giant) and is not in fact my real name. Forget about the name. Imagine its called “Music Nerd Blog” instead. You’ll get the idea.
I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.
I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of Real Ale or French Cinema, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated art-lover and their knowledge of Vincent Van Gough. Everyone has a thing they get nerdy about, whether or not they realize or admit that it is similar to the more famous nerdy things like Star Wars. I don’t particularly like Football or Reality TV or Vincent Van Gough. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s my one thing. That’s what this Blog is all about.
Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.
I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).
According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.
If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.
So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article:
This is the seventieth entry in the series (wow, I didn’t imagine I’d be doing seventy of these when I first started, especially when I thought it was going to be all Black Metal and Death Metal albums at the start).
This time I’ll be listening to the debut album by the American band Living Colour, (interestingly spelling colour with a ‘u’ despite being American).
This is one of those albums that’s pretty unique and so you can’t really fit it into a true subgenre. Sure its got rap, but its not really Rap Metal in the Limp Bizkit sense. Sure, its got a lively bass player, but it doesn’t really fit in with Primus or indeed with Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Sure its got a big 80s production, but it doesn’t fit in with Warrant or Poison.
I can’t really talk about the genre then. My formula for these articles is usually to discuss the genre, but I think these guys are in a genre of one, really.
Maybe I could talk about Penguins then? Apparently they don’t really mate for life like most people think. What? You don’t want Penguin trivia? Fine…
I guess I’ll talk about the band. I don’t really know about the band. Apparently they were a big deal at the time. To me they are a one-hit-wonder. I only have one Mental Post-it Note about them, and all it says is: “Living Colour. Cult Of Personality. 80s Production. Funk Bits. Rap Bits. Influential To Nu Metal?” – That’s probably because I’m too young to have seen or heard of them when anything other than ‘Cult Of Personality’ was on offer. Wikipedia says it was one the most popular albums of 1988, the year I was born. Apparently a lot of people know about the band then.
What else is interesting is that apparently the album was produced by Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones. I didn’t know or suspect the two bands had any connection. I don’t want to dwell too much on the race issue. Much like the ‘can we please stop thinking of women in Metal as WOMEN in Metal’ thing. Sure a bit of background and context is educational, but at the end of the day, leaning too heavily on that context is a bit reductionist.
With that being said, let’s just have ourselves a listen to the music itself then:
The album opens with the main single, and the band’s biggest hit ‘Cult Of Personality.’ I do remember seeing the video on Kerrang and MTV2 a few times but I never watched it, if you know what I mean. Apparently it was in GTA San Andreas too (as was Alice In Chain’s ‘Them Bones’ and Soundgarden’s ‘Rusty Cage’ – but I don’t remember ever hearing any of them there, just ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ and ‘Pretend We’re Dead’ on an endless loop).
The production reminds me a bit of Faith No More’s The Real Thing. I guess they came out around the same time and were a sort of mixture of funk with the bright, trebly Metal of Hair Metal and Van Halen/Randy Rhodes influenced bands.
The main riff and vocal pattern is quite catchy. The tone of the snare drum really reminds me of Vinny Paul for some reason. There’s a guitar solo, but it’s a bit noisy and un-musical. A bit more Kerry King than Eddie Van Halen.
Towards the end, it gets pretty interesting, with extra fills and that fast bit at the very end.
Then comes ‘I Want To Know’ which sounds to me like a mixture of Van Halen, with Kiss and Extreme. Especially with that ‘Hey Kids’ opening line. There’s some occasional funky bass pops. The chorus reminds me of 80s and early-90s pop music actually, as well as Yes’ ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ for some reason. The bit with the word ‘dream’ being repeated reminds me a bit of Queen. Again, there’s a guitar solo, but not a very pleasing-to-the-ear one.
‘Middle Man’ comes in next with quite a punky riff, but then it slows down into a grungey pace that really reminds me of that nickles-and-dimes referencing song that is the opening song to the movie Clerks. It’s a bit more of a lively track than the previous one. The drums are quite bouncy and satisfying. It has the whole rock-meets-funk thing down, but actually is good as well and not just a good idea. There’s a brief solo. Again, same thing. He has a definite style of lead guitar that isn’t quite to my own personal tastes. The drummer on the other hand, is pretty entertaining with his beats and fills.
The big breakdown where most of the music cuts out is quite entertaining, and then when the music all comes back its extra energetic. I always enjoy that sort of thing. Then its over.
Next comes ‘Desperate People’ which opens up with a weird sort of early Greenday sound, y’know the Kerplunk and Slappy stuff, only, with double-kicks and overly funky bass. Its sort of a noisy mish mash, then it kicks into a riff that reminds me of ‘Back In Black’ with a sort of Kiss’ ‘I Love It Loud’ production. There’s also something of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Heartbreaker’ about it. Its pretty entertaining at this point. The vocals actually remind me a bit of Mike Patton here. There’s a middle-eight that reminds me of 80s-Genesis. There’s another guitar solo that doesn’t really do it for me.
‘Open Letter (To A Land Lord)’ opens next, it starts off with a soulful (yet Spice-Girls-esque intro) then it morphs into a funky part that reminds me of the Ghostbusters theme tune. The intro comes back but with guitar and drums and it kind of reminds me of Use Your Illusion’s cheesier moments. At about 2.50 it kicks into a much harder funk part, and has a lot more energy. It reminds me of the colourful purple and green animations from the TV Show “Movies Games and Videos.”
Overall, this song isn’t really doing for me though. Again, the drummer is pretty interesting, but the main parts of the song don’t really do it for me.
‘Funny Vibe’ comes next. It starts with some jazzy filler, before a sort of faster punky bit comes in, its vaguely reminiscent of Faith No More and even King Crimson in the way the guitar seems to be working, then it morphs into pure funk. It sounds like the advertisement a clothes shop would put on for summer parties. Then they start putting in samples. The way the vocals work remind me a little of Faith No More’s ‘We Care A Lot.’ Then an alternative funk bit which might have some DJ scratches (or it might just be the echo from the Hi-Hat) and a guitar solo. Then that part that vaguely, distantly sounds like King Crimson comes back. It also, in no real way that I can explain, reminds me of ‘Duke’s Intro’ by Genesis.
It has a false ending, then they play the fast bit again.
‘Memories Can’t Wait’ opens up with a part that could be Rage Against The Machine (but at the same time, is actually quite similar to Motorhead’s ‘America’ in a weird way) and has a guitar solo as soon as it starts. There’s a few really Faith No More reminiscent vocal parts, and another guitar solo once that RATM-sounding part comes back. Good drums again. This is probably my favourite track so far. There’s a vocal part that reminds me of that song ‘I’m Going Deeper Underground.’
Then there’s this massively Radiohead sounding middle-eight that seems a bit out of place. It goes in and out, with a faster, punkier part in the middle of its departure and return. They start adding proggy guitar effects over the top of it the second time and the song starts freaking out into a sort of psychedelic fade-out.
‘Broken Hearts’ comes next, with a loud sampled intro, then a big cock-rock standium anthem drum beat, that is surprisingly offset by guitar parts that are like a mixture between The Bends era Radiohead with a Lynyrd Skynyrd ballad.
Its weird. It reminds me of underwater and beach levels in Mario games. Its slightly sleepy, with a definite Seagull vibe. There’s a nice bass solo that reminds me of Banjo Kazzooie. Then a brief guitar solo that reminds me of November Rain, and horses.
Could you call this song a ballad? I don’t know. It’s a sort of slow, more contemplative number than the previous tracks, but its not really a ballad. Its not exactly ‘More Than Words’ by Extreme, even if it does have love-forgiveness-song lyrics.
I don’t really dig it at all to be honest. Nothing about this really speaks to me.
‘Glamour Boys’ opens up next. It has a sort of happy Jamacian vibe. It sounds like a Megaderive game’s Jamica level. After a while they throw in a distorted riff, but mostly, its this fun, beach-party music with Phil Collins style vocals. When the distorted riff comes in the second time it really makes me smile, the same way Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ does, every time I hear the line ‘You gotta roll-roll-roll with the punches!’ – For a song called ‘Glamour Boys’ I expected one of two things, either something that sounds like ‘Talk Dirty To Me’ or something that sounds like ‘Big Dumb Sex’ – this super happy, beach barbeque wasn’t ever something I imagined.
‘What’s Your Favorite Color? (Theme Song)’ comes next, it opens with a big does of energy, then starts again as a really calm funk piece that sounds like low background music in a sofa advertisement or a birthday party in Saved By The Bell. If it was four times as energetic, it would remind me of the music that makes McLovin start dancing in Superbad. Its not though. You know what it does remind me of though? ’13 Flavours’ by Sacred Reich. When they ‘break it down’ its actually really entertaining. There’s probably just a bit too much repetition and not enough energy for the rest of it.
‘Which Way To America?’ opens up sounding like a Motorbike level in a megadrive game, its got energy and speed. The vocals are a bit Pattony. There’s a nice distorted chords bit, then a nice guitar rise. Hey, this song is pretty badass.
I think the speed and energy really pay off here. The guitar solo is just as noisy and Kerry King-esque as before, but it suits the more lively music. If more of the album had this much energy I’d really be interested. There’s a good middle part, there’s a few samples. After that he really starts throwing powerful shouts into it. This is great! Where was this passion the whole rest of the record?
Ok. That was the whole album. It was bookended by its two strongest songs, and there were a few interesting or even fun parts, but overall, it was a bit of a dull listen. There was variety yes, but it was such a slow, polite record that it did’t really have the power to keep me interested. I’m not a person who really gets excited by the idea of adding funk or adding rap on its own. I will really respond to them if they are added with the power and passion of good Rock or Metal, but just their mere presence isn’t enough to make me think its interesting.
I’ll give it this; it’s a very unique record. The basis of it isn’t hard rock, hair metal or alternative music you’ve heard before, and even if the only band I can compare them to is Faith No More, that’s only the barest of surface similarities. There’s no other record I’ve ever heard like this, and that’s before you even factor in all the stuff they mixed into it like the funk, soul and rap. The actual basis of it is darn unique too.
It hasn’t won me over though. I‘m glad it only cost me a penny. I’m glad to have heard it, and to now understand how it fits into the musical landscape, but much like MC5, its not really for me. I can’t really ever foresee any of these songs being a personal favourtie.
If you were to ask me if its worth checking out, I think I’d say either ‘only if you buy it for a penny’ or, just to buy ‘Cult Of Personality’ ‘Middle Man’ and ‘Which Way To America’ because that will give you all the best moments and save you all the filler. I think it has a gem to filler ratio about equal to White Zombie’s Astro Creep 2000 album.
[Side Note: I’ve been listening to the album a second time while finishing typing this and checking all the grammar, and I have to say, ‘Middle Man’ is very good. ‘Desperate People’ aint half-bad either actually. I’m enjoying it all a lot better the second time around. Maybe it’s a grower. Its just a minor shame that the sort of last two thirds of the record (excluding the excellent album closer) is so boring.]
Have you heard it? If so, drop me a comment.