Music reviews: Living Colour, Queens Of The Stone Age

A lot of bands I love or am interested in as spin-offs or solo projects released albums recently, many in what feels like a two week period in September, and I’m trying to catch up.

Living Colour – Shade

Vivid was a landmark debut with a hard rock opener that is STILL a fresh sounding hit today. The album has a few ballads and a couple of other radio friendly ditties but I will remember it for the last few songs, particularly Which Way To Your America? which is a metal punk monster that is more relevant than ever today.

What do you do when half your album is radio friendly hard rock and half eclectic almost-metal with some socially conscious lyrics? And you’re on a major label? You double down on the heavy, which I think they did with Time’s Up, both the album and the insane opening title track. Instead of a lovely dovey ballad, we get Love Rears Its Ugly Head, an intense slow jam that sounds like the protagonist is breaking up with every love song ever written. I could go on, and maybe will on some of this material. I don’t know if Time’s Up and Stain were big sellers, but their (deserved) hit Cult Of Personality overshadows such great consistent material. These are underrated gems, both worth taking several listens.

I was stoked when they got back together after a 6 year or so breakup, but I personally hadn’t been wowed by the two albums they released since then. Shade shows the band paying tribute to “the blues,” which I feared meant that four of the most talented guys in rock ever (no, really) were going to waste recording time trying to be “Blues Hammer” from Ghost World. Living Colour is not the band to noodle and vamp over tepid backline blues scales, are they?

Thankfully there’s not anything like that specifically, but I didn’t get moved by the material until the 6th track, Always Wrong, and the rest of the album picks up from there with Blak Out which then leads into the punk blitz of Pattern In Time. The ‘blues’ type material also sounds bigger and bombastic from there on, which I think is from the huge guitar sound that sounds thicker and meaner from previous albums (Inner City Blues, for instance). Everything else about this band is there, from great singing to the guitar driven rock out music that spins into various fun directions for the listener.

This band is full of great surprises, so if Shade sounds like a slow start (I don’t know, make up your own track listing if this doesn’t gel), the band will take the wheel of their hard rock homage and steer you through a genre they could easily master. Two coffees up.

Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains

I’ve dug most of QOTSA’s output since their first album, with maybe a few exceptions (Lullabies To Paralyze…I think I’m the only person who doesn’t like it?). Even the rough-around-the-edges Rated R has grown on me recently. I had heard a little bit of Villains and didn’t pick out much I enjoyed, but I also didn’t give it the big stereo experience until last week.

Now I have half the album stuck in my head nearly every morning when I wake up, so the only thing I can do is put it on and enjoy the whole thing. It’s as subdued as Like Clockwork might feel compared to Era Vulgaris, but still has some hypnotic hooks mostly driven by Josh Homme’s singing. For a guy who might be responsible for bringing back riff rock with Kyuss and this band, Homme & his band make some of the dreamy and quieter parts as the most memorable, welcome earworms a listener can be stuck with. One of my favorites of the year. Two coffees up.

(So far, everything I’ve been checking out has been worth it. At least for me. Woo! Thanks awesome bands!)

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