FOR THE RECORD

Rock of rages

Protests, visions—and all that jazz

NICHOLAS JENNINGS May 10 1993
FOR THE RECORD

Rock of rages

Protests, visions—and all that jazz

NICHOLAS JENNINGS May 10 1993

Rock of rages

FOR THE RECORD

Protests, visions—and all that jazz

STAIN Living Colour (Epic/Sony)

In the often coarse world of hard rock, Living Colour is a diamond in the rough. Although the all-black New York City-based band can thrash and crunch with the best of them, it is the group’s shining social con-science that sets it apart from the pack. Like the band’s previous two albums, Stain covers topics as serious as racism and media burnout. But Living Colour’s latest recording is its most effective because the politics of the songs have shifted to a more personal perspective. Several numbers, including Go Away and Ignorance is Bliss, are written from the point of view of disaffected individuals who have watched one too many global tragedies on television. And Corey Glover sings them all with a palpable rage. Postman, which guitarist Vernon Reid

says that he wrote partly in response to the 1991 massacre of women at the University of Montreal, is particularly disturbing, expressing the twisted anger of a madman on a rampage. In fact, only the humorous Bi, one of the few hard-rock songs ever to deal openly with bisexuality, offers any relief from the album’s dark vision. But Living Colour’s unflinching look at weighty subjects is oddly refreshing: it gives new meaning to the term “heavy metal.”

EARTH AND SUN AND MOON Midnight Oil (Columbia /Sony)

With their brilliant album Diesel and Dust, Australia’s Midnight Oil became the leading exponents of protest rock in the late 1980s. The songs, especially the incendiary single Beds Are Burning, about indigenous land rights, were loud, stirring, almost frightening

calls to arms that rivalled The Clash’s angriest anthems of a decade earlier. Blue Sky Mining, the band’s uncompromising followup album, continued to tackle tough issues, including environmental crime and corporate greed. But singer Peter Garrett’s thunderous angry roar had become reduced to an occasional howl of outrage.

On Midnight Oil’s latest release, Earth and Sun and Moon, Garrett sounds almost as if he is purring. The problem is not the happier, more optimistic material—even bands with the bleakest of outlooks are entitled to find rays of sunshine. But songs like Outbreak of Love and the title track, with its hopeful message about the “human tribe,” lack any lasting resonance. And musically, the album seems mired in 1960s nostalgia. Only Truganini, which contrasts Australia’s traditional support for the monarchy with its historical oppression of Aboriginals, bristles with any intensity. Ultimately, Midnight Oil may have to go searching for new causes to regain its former fury.

BLACK TIE WHITE NOISE David Bowie (Arista/BMG)

The actor in him has led David Bowie to change personas as often as most people change wardrobes. And his flitting about from style to style has caused his music to suffer. After several disastrous mid-1980s albums, Bowie abandoned solo work altogether for a collective project, the hard-rock band Tin Machine. But now the solo artist is back with a new release and—surprisesome of his freshest sounds in years. Black Tie White Noise reunites him with Nile Rodgers, who produced Bowie’s most successful album ever, 1983’s Let’s Dance. Jazzier and funkier than their previous collaboration, it is an eclectic, horn-fuelled outing that features Bowie on saxophone and jazz great Lester Bowie (no relation) on trumpet.

Two of the album’s best tracks are instru-

mentals, the playful Looking for Lester and The Wedding, an exotic version of the song Bowie wrote for his new wife, supermodel Imán. The rhythm and blues ballad Don’t Let Me Down and Down, meanwhile, is Bowie at his vocal best. Admittedly, there are a few duds, including the droning Nite Flights and the thudding Pallas Athena, which mimics such monotonous 1990s dance styles as techno. But all in all, Black Tie White Noise is a convincing collection from the chameleon of rock ’n’ roll.

HARBOR LIGHTS Bruce Hornsby (RCA/BMG)

Bruce Hornsby’s acoustic piano keeps on paying rich dividends. Its warm, robust sound, something of a novelty in an age of synthesizers, characterized the Virginia native’s debut album, The Way It Is, in 1986. And it helped to turn the title track into one of the biggest hits of the decade. On subsequent albums with his band, The Range, Hornsby added accordion and organ, but it was always the piano that kept his fans coming back for more. Now Harbor Lights, his fourth release and first without The Range, is an unabashedly piano-driven affair.

But it represents a welcome move away from Hornsby’s mainstream pop sound. Full of extended jazz improvizations, the album features such talents as saxophonist Branford Marsalis and guitarist Pat Metheny. And they seem to push the pianist to greater heights of expression. Talk of the Town, a bluesy number about an interracial romance, finds Hornsby jamming with Marsalis in a thrilling style. And vocally, the pianist has never sounded as confident as he does on the rousing What a Time, about a blackout with “a thousand people singing in the dark.” Hornsby has wisely chosen to stick with the unadorned sound of his acoustic keyboard. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

NICHOLAS JENNINGS