Stain (Epic)
Living Colour

By Mark Clark

Living Colour's new album, Stain, is mood music – bad mood music.

Not to say the music is bad. Rather, it's music designed for listening when your mood is bad. Song titles such as "Go Away," "Leave It Alone," and "Mind Your Own Business" speak for themselves.

Stain is 45 minutes of abrasive, angry, get-out-of-my-face heavy metal. More than that, it's 45 minutes of extraordinarily imaginative and well-executed abrasive, angry, get-out-of-my-face heavy metal. It's the kind of stuff that should be played at decibel levels capable of deafening family pets. At volumes window panes (and most woofers) were never designed to handle.

None of which should give you the impression that Stain is an easy album to listen to. It's far less accessible than Living Colour's 1988 debut Vivid, 1990's brilliant Time's Up or 1992's eclectic Biscuits. The soul and funk motifs that dotted those efforts are all but absent here, replaced with punkish, unvarnished thrash.

Perhaps for that reason, Stain doesn't seem as fully satisfying as the band's previous work. From all reports, the band's sound was tidied up to gain airplay during the Vivid sessions. (Songs like "Glamour Boys" are barely recognizable when the band plays them live.) Maybe Stain is some sort of delayed backlash – Living Colour out to prove it can blister eardrums as well as Anthrax or Suicidal Tendencies or (Insert Name of Your Favorite Speed Metal Band Here).

Vocalist Corey Glover does more howling than singing. Guitarist Vernon Reid is stuck in overdrive, sounding at times like a copy of "Axis: Bold As Love" played at 78 rpm. Drummer William Calhoun and new bassist Doug Wimbish try to keep up.

The best of the many vicious cuts on Stain are the kinetic "Mind Your Own Business," "Postman" (about a mass murderer) and "Auslander," which probably would have been retooled as a light pop number in the band's Vivid days. "Go Away" and "Ignorance Is Bliss" get the disc off to a scorching start.

The album's finest moments, however, come with tracks that harken back to Time's Up. "Bi," for example, boasts a backbeat copped from James Brown and a sense of humor. It's cool, springy and singable. "Nothingness" is dark but melodic, set against a big, almost orchestral backdrop.

Stain also includes the first couple real clinkers of the band's meteoric career – the derivative "Never Satisfied" and the cliche-riddled "Wall." Better the band had recycled its covers of Tracy Chapman's "Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution" or The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go," tracks as yet available only as B-sides, than settle for "Never Satisfied" or "Wall."

In truth, the flaws in Stain wouldn't even be visible if the album had been recorded by any other band. But fans have come to expect just a little more from Living Colour, who (warts and all) still get my vote as America's best working hard rock band.