By Christopher John Farley
(transcribed by email@example.com)
Loud is back in. And no one fuses intelligence and volume better than Rage Against the Machine
Zack de la Rocha, lead singer for rock-hop band Rage Against the Machine, walks into Ca'Brea, a small Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, with revolution on his mind. Dressed in a hooded red sweat top, his dreads tucked into a knit cap, he takes a seat at a corner table and exchanges what, for him, passes as small talk- how money is corrupting politics, the effect of advertising on the editorial content of magazines- before getting down to important issues. He thinks Subcomandante Marcos, leader of Mexico's Zapatista rebels, should be TIME's Man of the Century. On Rage's last CD, De la Rocha co-wrote a song about the Zapatistas, "People of the Sun." Now, passion in his voice, he argues that Marcos is setting an example for oppressed people, proving "that there are other ways of dealing with ruling power than being passive."
In its own way, Rage Against the Machine is doing much the same thing in music. Rock is going through a period of heaviness. Bands are getting louder, lyrics more aggressive; voices are growling. Rock-hop acts helped open the door for a more in-your-face sound; now straight-ahead rock acts are pouring through. The hard-rock band Creed recently scored No. 1 album; Bush and Live, after hiatuses, have new (mediocre) CDs out. There's also "Woodstock 99," a mostly dull double CD with with live songs by rock-hoppers (Limp Bizkit, Korn) and straight-ahead rockers (Godsmack, Buckcherry) drawn from this summer's controversial concert. No wonder Axl Rose and his band, Guns N Roses, picked this musical moment to attempt a comeback, contributing a fierce, though somewhat tuneless, new song to the sound-track CD for the forthcoming film "End of Days." Lilith fair is over, my friend. It's safe for the bad boys to come out and play.
Rage Against the Machine's new album, "The Battle of Los Angeles" (Epic), is a landmark not only because it's an exhilirating mix of hip-hop and hard rock, but also because it's a winning fusion of loud rock and intelligence. This is music that bounces like a gangsta rapper's lowrider, yet snarls like Nine Inch Nails, and yet speaks out on issues with insurgent eloquence. In the early '90s, bands like Nirvana played loud, punkish music that thoughtfully expressed their alienation. Today, novelty acts like Blink182 play loud, dumb music proudly, and the gap between the volume of the music and the emptiness of the lyrics only increases the sense of the inanity. Also, a good deal of the latest heavy rock asserts itself by being casually dismissive of women. "She's got issues!" scream The Offspring. "She's going to change the world but she can't change me!" wails Chris Cornell. "I did it all for the nookie!" declares Limp Bizkit. Insert your own knowing, literate reference to Susan Faludi's book "Stiffed" right here.
Unlike many other hard-rock bands, Rage, as guitarist Tom Morello puts it, has "social and political" concerns. Indeed, in an interview, De la Rocha sounds off on a wide range of topics. He ridicules New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani: "There's nothing more dangerous than a fascist with aspirations for higher office." He's also critical of Sean ("Puffy") Combs: "If Reagan were a rapper, he'd be in Puff Daddy's crew. It's the same set of politics. Fuck everyone else. Just get paid. Don't think about the community." The roots of De la Rocha's rage are in his hometown of Irvine, Calif. He went to a mostly white high school where, as a Chicano, he seethed at rascist comments about "wetbacks" made by students and teachers alike. At age 17, he saw a show by the black punk group Bad Brains, "and it was a personal revolution." De la Rocha, Morello, drummer Brad Wilk, and bassist Tim Commerford formed Rage in 1991. De la Rocha, now 29, draws inspiration for his lyrics from bands like Public Enemy and writers like James Baldwin and Eduardo Galeano. Songs on the new CD take on the media coverage of the Gulf War and the plight of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a black journalist on death row whom many people (De la Rocha included) feel was unjustly convicted. De la Rocha has a lofty goal as a lyricist: "I try to write songs that engage people in a critical dialogue about fighting for and among dispossessed peoples of the world." Still, even Bob Marley wrote ballads. Could De la Rocha ever see himself writing a love song? "Every revolutionary act is an act of love," he says. "[So] every song I've ever written has been a love song." From that perspective, "The Battle of Los Angeles," with its scathing guitars and whiplash lyrics, is the most romantic CD of the year.
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