Is Rage Against The Machine any good? This is a question I’ve often asked myself ever since listening to them as a mid-‘oos high schooler. The answer then seemed to be “yes”, though it may have been partly because they were a fun band to groove along to when I was first learning to play drums. However, they seemed much less good during the late ’00s/early ’10s of my college years, which may have been due to my budding indie rock snobbery. Meanwhile, they’ve sounded pretty darn good to my ears the last two years. Which is to say, how good this band sounds may all be correlated to the political climate of the time.
So, with that in mind, this record sounds very good on this particular day, but I’m not so sure how good it will sound tomorrow. Obviously, today is not only an election day, but one in which there seems to be a lot on the line. Not just due to a not entirely shitty party’s ability to be a check on a completely shitty president, but also in the overall mood of people who don’t love being governed by cynical fascistic men.
If there’s a positive spin on the last two years, it’s that it has been quite good to resistance-minded music. Though I do wonder how much fight will be left in us liberals if things don’t go our way. Will activism and hope seem completely fucking useless? Furthermore, will a record like Rage Against The Machine’s debut sound completely fucking useless? Will I continue to imbue my reviews with vague political undertones that no one asked for?
I don’t know. I just know that whatever the outcome, our need to rage against the Republican’s nightmare machine will be far from over.
Getting back to this actually being a post about music… I think the reason that Rage Against The Machine has sounded kind of dumb in different periods of my life is that there is not a ton of subtlety in this music. You’ve got songs where Zack de la Rocha is literally screaming certain phrases like “a bullet in your head!” or “freedom!” over and over at the end of them. Though this lack of subtlety has become more of an asset than a crutch during, say, the Bush administration or our current one.
Not that that’s to say any of this music sounds remotely like it’s endorsing any political candidates. No, this is a record very angry at “the system”, born from an era in which you could potentially make the case that neither of the major American political parties was any more (or less) evil than the other. That may not be the case any longer, but it’s a lot easier (and maybe more reasonable) to be mad at everybody working within this system, and Rage Against The Machine will sound best during those times when you feel a kind of need to be mad at everyone in a position of power.
Though, like most of our politics these days, I may be oversimplifying this album by merely recognizing how dumb and angry it is. The rhythm section of Tim Commerford and Brad Wilke has a swing and a groove to it that you won’t find in many post-70s hard rock bands, and certainly not in the very dumb and angry nü metal bands that Rage inspired. Then on top of that, guitarist Tom Morello’s mixture of Zep-heavy riffage and effects-laden noodling keeps the band’s musical backbone from ever sounding conventional, despite the fact that Rage were one of the biggest mainstream rock bands of the ’90s.
Which brings up one question you gotta ask: how anti-establishment were these guys really? After all, they were signed to a major record label at a time when I can only assume major labels were as greedy as they’ve ever been. Still, if Rage learned anything from politicians, it was that if you want to get your message out there, you need a bigger platform. It’s not like they were playing a lot of indie bands on MTV. So I guess what I’m saying is, even those who claim to be raging against the machine could potentially be part of the machine themselves. Which should always be taken with a grain of salt.
Welp, this might be the longest C.A.T. I’ve ever done. Possibly because I didn’t talk about music that much. Here’s to hoping I’ll be hinting at the shitty state of our politics a little bit less on this blog after tonight. And if you haven’t… go vote!
Favorite Tracks: “Bombtrack”, “Know Your Enemy”, “Township Rebellion”