Monday, March 19, 2018

STAIN by Living Colour: 25 Years Later

It seems like yesterday when I walked into Tower Records in Torrance, CA and bought the Living Colour album Stain. This was a big deal to me because this band was a big influence on me during my college years. On that eventful night I had just finished my shift at work as I worked at a department store in the same shopping center as my favorite record store. You can imagine how excited I was to end my shift and get that new album in my hands.

Once I got home I put the album on and was immediately blown away! I was already a big fan of the band as I loved everything they had put out on their previous albums and home videos. Aside from that, I was a big student of Will Calhoun's drumming as I not only listened carefully to all that he did on these amazing recordings but took the time to transcribe many of his drum parts. That was always a great challenge as well as a great asset to learning more about his drumming because to do so I had to spend hours listening to all that he did in order to get the charts right. I am proud to say that he not only left a great impression on me but also on my fellow classmates and teachers because at the time I was studying music and I had performed some of his parts o multiple occasions for my Applied Music Class at El Camino Community College. 

This was also a special era of the band for me because I would also see the band for the first and only time (so far) on May 7, 1993 at the Hollywood Palladium as they headlined a show that featured opening bands Tool and Bad Brains. It was an amazing show as it was all about the music yet the energy they produced rivaled any band that also featured theatrics in their performance. 

So let's take a look at some of the performances that continue to take my breath away even today. I chose the songs with the full band performing with some of the links featuring live versions of the songs rather than the studio tracks: 

"Go Away:"

Everyone knew that they had just recruitment the amazing Doug Wimbish to take over the bass duties so like many fans I was curious to hear how they would sound with this new member. This song is a killer opener to the album as it was heavier than anything they had put out before. The groove was solid as Calhoun and Wimbish were spot on but things get even more interesting once we get to the solo section. There they slow it down into a heavier half time groove (see 2:30) with the riff being a two bar pattern, which is important because it will highlight some really nice drumming done by Calhoun. The groove is a heavy Rock Shuffle type beat and sings on its own under Vernon Reid's blistering guitar solo. However, at 2:34 and 2:46 Calhoun does two fills that are two bars in length that begin halfway through the riff, which means that he has to finish the fills at the halfway point of the next go round of the riff. It sounds amazing as it give the groove a different feel than what most people would expect. Then comes my favorite part of the song (see 3:11), which Wimbish once called the Weather Report (named after the famous fusion band) section. I just love how Calhoun lays down a basic groove as Wimbish plays one of the funkiest bass lines ever recorded by this band. 

"Ignorance is Bliss:"

This song has a great Rock Shuffle feel with a guitar riff that was not common in that time period. It also has a great lyrical message. I really liked the live version in the link provided as this band is so energetic live yet as tight as ever.

"Leave it Alone:"

This was the first single and probably the most commercial song on the album. It is musically brighter than most of the songs but lyrically shows a character who won't just follow any type of crowd. The link is of the first time they performed any of the songs from Stain live and it's amazing to see the amount of energy they generated from such a simple song.


Another song with a commercial slant but this one is somewhat humorous and probably the simplest song on the album. Maybe they were just trying to have some fun with this one and simply let the song dictate their performances. However, the simplicity of the song allowed them to flow into the electronic section without a glitch with that part taking that song up a notch. (see 3:46)

"Mind Your Own Business:"

This is probably the heaviest song on the album as it features a great verse before it kicks into a double time chorus. During the last two choruses they actually slow down the tempo and then speed it up again multiple times. It's a nice change to the song but the thing that was most impressive was when they played the song live as they slowed it down even more in order to show the audience how tight the band could really be. It was really impressive because it's so easy to get caught up in the moment and play at a faster tempo than expected.


This is one of my favorite songs on the album. I just love the groove as well as the bridge where they just go through two different riffs as Calhoun adds some cool industrial sounds to his pounding drum part. To me it's just a really cool jam with Wimbish really punching his bass through the main groove.

"Never Satisfied:"

This is another one of those great Living Colour songs with a cool groove that's just fun to listen to while you're rolling out on the freeway or relaxing at home. As a drummer I really enjoy Calhoun's hi-hat work on this song as it's both sweet and smooth.


Everything about this song is amazing! The groove on the drums, the bass line that really layers the bottom end along with Reid's guitar synth work. Aside from that vocalist Corey Glover does an amazing job delivering a very emotional performance.


This song is a rocker that really features Reid and Wimbish at their best. When this album came out I remember reading an interview where the journalist commented how tight Reid and Wimbish were even though Wimbish was new to the band. Reid remarked that they had been playing together for years, mostly in recording sessions so they didn't really need a feeling out period. Therefore, this song was the best demonstration on the album of the mileage they had already put in together. It's very heavy and also dangerous as the guitar and bass part really support the dark and frightening story sung by Glover. 

"This Little Pig:"

This song may not be the heaviest song on the album but it is certainly the most intense. It shoots out of the box and offers a bit of instability in the intro before it settles in to a killer up tempo groove. Even when they kick into other grooves that sounds like someone spinning or falling it still continues to move with great intensity. You can see in this song just how accurate and precise they are as individual musicians as well as how tight they are as a band.


This song is Living Colour at its best when it comes to their groove and precision as the riffs move smoothly with these groove also assisting in telling the powerful story of the song. It is the perfect closer to the album as it reminds us what we must do to get past all of the dark and heavy topics that are covered in each of the previous songs.

As a record collector I try to get anything I can get when any special album comes out. As a big fan of both this album and the supporting tour I was most excited when I heard of the Japanese release of the album titled Dread, which features live cuts from the Stain tour.

Aside from that the band also allowed some electronic music producers to do further work on their songs from this album, which led to the release of the bonus cuts of Auslander on the single:

To this day the music industry focuses a lot on the band's debut album Vivid, because it featured their biggest hit song Cult of Personality. That's fine as that too is an album in my collection that I am still very fond of. Of course Stain was also released during a time that the music scene was changing as we had Grunge and other forms of depressing music. I'm not sure if Living Colour was simply buying in to that mind set or just felt like addressing some heavier issues on this album but what I like about this album lyrically is that it's not as much doom as gloom that was common in the other stuff that was out during this time as it was more hey, do you see what's going on around you? I can appreciate that as I have always been a person who was never afraid to look at things as they really were. Glover's vocals were amazing as usual as he took us on a roller coaster of emotions more than he had on previous albums. Reid and Wimbish were their usual stellar selves as their performances both supported Glover's performance while also assisting him in telling us the story of the song melodically. Calhoun's drums were more powerful than anything we had heard in the past while also providing that soulful groove that we had come to expect from his unique style (coming soon, a blog on his brilliant drumming).

Sonically the album is brilliant as it sounds the way it feels as it's dark, angry, sad and in your face. The issues addressed on the album are things that I think are experienced by many who follow this band, which is why the album remains a favorite among hardcore Living Colour fans to this day. It will always be a treasure in my collection.

Carlos Solorzano

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