Musically adventurous, funky to a tee and mad as hell.
Chris Jones 2008-11-28
Politics and rock - always a touchy subject. How to convey an agenda while courting big record company rewards? How to say what you really want without risk of censorship? And if you make the music too good will the message be lost? Rage Against The Machine is probably the last gasp of commercially successful agit-prop rock released under the corprorate umbrella: musically adventurous, funky to a tee and mad as hell.
Fusing the polemical style of Public Enemy with some pretty avant garde metal shapes RATM remain a model of how to make white rap rock that cuts across boundaries. Firstly, the sheer ..well, rage and conviction with which vocalist Zach de la Rocha spits his rhymes. Secondly the use of a guitar by Tom Morello to counterpoint outrage at a 'free' world that harbours hypocrisy and injustice. It's a heady brew that was never better than on this debut album. Songs like Bullet In The Head and the multi-platinum Killing In The Name use limited repeating phrases to bludgeon you awake while still allowing you to groove on the fabulously driving riffs.
It's only when you take a really good look under the hood that you see the failings. The flows may be bile-soaked but say little more than ''America is corrupt and lies to its citizens'' and '' the world is unfair if you're dispossessed''. Fair points, and worth making, but hardly ground-breaking. What's more they're devoid of any real concrete answers other than not agreeing to, "do what you tell me''. This naturally made RATM's debut the ultimate teenage rebellion album to date as well: the soundtrack to a million angry stomp-offs to a million poster-strewn bedrooms.
But to dismiss it as mere stroppiness is ultimately unfair. In Tom Morello's guitar work we were witnessing innovation on a grand scale. Combining noise, electronics and good old fashioned shred, his style was a template for a generation and yet has hardly ever been bettered. And in politicising a generation, no matter how vapidly, RATM at least struck a blow. In this worryingly apolitical present day climate it still seems bravely confrontational. Musically it remains a milestone.