Rage Against the Machine Reviews

Rage Against The Machine
The Battle of Los Angeles
***** / *****
By David de Sola
Senior Staff Writer
A New Rage

In a time of a thriving American economy and a music scene dominated by retro-80ís teen pop acts and their bastard clones whose biggest problems are a breakup or a non-clashing wardrobe, there are few bands that choose to address the fact that life is not as peachy as we think it is. One of those bands is Rage Against The Machine. Politically hyperactive frontman Zack de la Rocha shouts, whispers, and raps about social injustices. Tom Morello is one of the most amazing guitarists on the planet, and is considered by many to be the next member of the guitar god pantheon that includes Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Eddie Van Halen. Bassist Tim Commerford (aka Timmy C, Tim Bob, Tim.Com, and now Y.tim.K) adds a surprising jazz/rock hybrid to the bandís sound. Drummer Brad Wilk rounds it all out with explosive punk rock beats. These radical leftists were the first group to successfully create a genre out of fusing rap and rock back in 1992, when grunge and Guns ní Roses were the standards for rock and Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre dominated rap. They combined their various musical and political influences (Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Public Enemy, Malcolm X, and Che Guevara, to name a few) to create a style unheard of at the time or unmatched ever since. The bandís self-titled debut album was released without any fanfare, promotion, or expectations. It went on to become one of the most influential albums of the decade. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Rage is the wild sounds they get out of their instruments, explained by their trademark disclaimer "ALL SOUNDS MADE BY GUITAR, BASS, DRUMS, AND VOCALS." After spending over 200 weeks on the Billboard chart and peaking at #89 and touring for over two and a half years, Rage took a break and went back to the studio. In 1996, they released their sophomore effort Evil Empire (a reference to former President Ronald Reaganís description of the Soviet Union) which went straight to number one on the charts its first week of release. Fans and critics tended to emphasize Morelloís new sounds on Evil Empire and often left the other band membersí contributions overlooked.

In between albums, they have contributed to soundtracks and recorded a few covers or collaboration singles. They have toured with acts as diverse as House of Pain, Cypress Hill, the Wu-Tang Clan, Tool, and opened for U2. Their reputation as a tremendous live act has landed them a spot on every major tour and concert of the decade, including Lollapalooza, the Tibetan Freedom Concert, and Woodstock í99. They have also publicly supported causes which have brought them much controversy, including benefit shows for the Zapatistas, Leonard Peltier, and Mumia Abu-Jamal. After several delays, the bandís long-awaited third album The Battle of Los Angeles dropped in stores on Election Day. It was voted "Most Anticipated Album of 1999" by readers of Rolling Stone, and Rage destroys the fansí high expectations. While relations between the band members have always been somewhat chaotic, all of them admit that this album was by far and away the easiest to make, in spite of all the delays of the release date and they reworked some of their new material several times before coming up with a finished version which they all could agree on. There were less personality conflicts and much more cooperation in the development and expansion of Rageís sound while keeping their same basic style. The new sense of cooperation and respect for each other is embodied in all of the songs on The Battle of Los Angeles. De la Rochaís lyrics this time around are his best yet. Morelloís guitar playing is nothing less than spectacular. Surprisingly, itís Commerford and Wilk who really took their musicianship to the next level to complement Morelloís guitar and de la Rochaís lyrics. In other bands, the bassist and drummer are usually the unsung heroes who often take a back seat to the guitarist and frontman, but Commerford and Wilk are rocking hard in the frontlines with Morello and de la Rocha

The albumís title is intentionally ambiguous according to the band, but its most simplified and widely accepted meaning is the different classes and images that clash to form the melting pot that is Los Angeles, a city that is as renown for its urban war zones and working class population as the bands and movies that it produces. In an online chat with fans, Morello further elaborates on the meaning of the album title "Rage Against The Machine is a unique product of L.A., and I don't think it could have happened anywhere else." The first single, "Guerrilla Radio", took rock radio stations by storm and further fueled the anticipation frenzy for the new album. De la Rochaís lyrics take on American numbness to violence ("Testify") and the Westernization of the world ("Sleep Now in the Fire"). Commerford sets up some of the funkiest bass lines ever put on tape that would send Flea back to the drawing board ("Calm Like a Bomb", "Maria"). Morelloís Pandoraís box of new sounds includes a wild harmonica-sounding solo ("Guerrilla Radio") and more of his trademark turntable-esque scratching ("Mic Check"). Wilkís drumming is so hard-hitting ("Voice of the Voiceless", "Ashes In The Fall"), Keith Moon and John Bonham might take notice in the great beyond. "Born of a Broken Man" is a fine example of what Rage do best together: create a creepy melody that leaves you paralyzed like a deer staring at the headlights of an oncoming car, and then runs you over, in the tradition of their earlier hits like "Bombtrack" and "Bullet in the Head". This is a record that one can listen to twenty times and notice something new each time. It also leaves you scratching your head asking yourself "How the hell did they do that?"

The Battle of Los Angeles, note for note and lyric for lyric, is one of the best albums of the year. It is so amazing, it defies comparison to its predecessors and other albums of the same genre. Rage Against The Machine have reaffirmed themselves as the originals and the best at what they do in a time when the rock/rap sound they pioneered seven years ago has now become an artistically legitimate and mainstream style of music. A quick stateside tour before the holidays is planned to break out some of the new material before a larger scale American and world tour next year. With twelve explosive new songs, Rage say farewell to the twentieth century and greet the twenty-first with a raised fist of defiance. Zack de la Rocha sums it all up "Weíre not going to play to the mainstream, weíre going to hijack it." If heís true to his word, then the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears had better brace themselves for the revolution.

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