Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid is pleased with The Chair in the Doorway, the band's first album of new material in six years. He's sure it hangs together the way it does because the title came first and — in ways not easily spelled out — guided and governed the songs.
"How this record literally created itself is a big part of how much I like it," says Reid. "I like it in spite of the fact that I had a song that I really wanted to put on the record that just didn't happen. Everyone liked [my song]. Just nobody liked it for this [record]. Everybody in the band had a piece like that."
While the title of the new album hangs heavily over its content, explaining what it means is tricky.
"It's something that [singer] Corey [Glover] said," says Reid. "And it seized my imagination. It's a concrete expression [and] an existential abstraction. Why is the chair in the doorway? Who put it there? I loved that it was just this odd thing that was real but was also surreal."
Reid is quick to point out that some band members still don't get it. But it became the measure by which they (Reid, Glover, bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun) selected the songs. The arresting, even disturbing, nature of this image does match up well with the dark character of much of the material. Built around Reid's ear-grabbing, clarion-call riff, Chair's first single, "Behind the Sun," is a shining example of Living Colour's metal-meets-melody cross-breeding.
The Chair in the Doorway marks the return of one of rock's most distinctive and trailblazing outfits. With the Brooklyn-bred Reid's banshee-like guitar — simultaneously liquid and razor-sharp — and Glover's arena-strength vocals, Living Colour drew from the more exciting elements of New York's mid-'80s music scene and put them in a supercharged metal/rock package with a solid dash of pop instincts. But the band's multi-platinum splash, by way of its 1988 debut, Vivid, was hardly a slam-dunk.
Prior to Living Colour and save for Hendrix, the terms "rock" and "African-American" rarely shared the same sentence and were certainly not a tandem within the music industry's narrow mental margins. After a slew of rejections, it was Mick Jagger, for whom Reid did studio work, who helped grease the major-label wheels. Vivid's commercial success was underscored by a Grammy — for the vocals on their signature song "Cult of Personality" — and set off a nearly seven-year, three-album run. A 2003 reunion yielded Collideoscope, which was somewhat less pop-slanted and considerably darker than their earlier works and spiked with a tasty piece of industry payback with a cover of AC/DC's "Back in Black."
The Chair tour is Living Colour's first in the U.S. in four years and, while larger venues are planned for the future, the band's doing the club circuit this time around.
"For us to come back out, I think it's part of a rebuilding process, a reacquainting process," says Reid. "Hopefully there'll be enough people that are curious about what we do. It's kind of crucial that we're at eye level with people. I think it's real important [that] we say, 'We are not blinged out.' That's kind of not where we are. Of course, y'know, success? Great. But we have never forgotten that we came from kind of local roots. It's kind of important in terms of what we're talkin' about."