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Rage Against the Machine

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  • This is, and always will be, considered Rage Against the Machine’s most important work. Rage’s signature sound, featuring Tom Morello’s belligerent, aggressive guitar riffs and turntable-esque noise, Tim Bob’s funky bass, and Zack de la Rocha’s vitriolic raps, is fully defined on this album. Their two subsequent albums, although excellent in their own right, do little to improve upon their debut’s formula. Unlike most great bands, Rage was fully grown even in its infancy, and was signed after doing only 10 power-packed shows in Los Angeles. Although they presented fresh, worthy material, there was little room for improvement to the band’s style, and very little experimentation would have been possible without fundamentally altering the band’s sound. This album, therefore, not only has the advantage of being their first album, but it also has the most start to finish quality. Every tune is a highly explosive ball of energy, none of which is clearly superior to any of the others. Rage Against the Machine also plays the most successful rock-rap fusion ever put on tape. In the current rap-metal feeding frenzy, most bands have opted to mimic Korn (the other band whose work is often referred to as the most representative rap-rock fusion), who rarely sounds anything like rap, although their massive beats are infused with a rap-inspired appreciation for the visceral primacy of rhythm and sound. Also, unlike bands like Limp Bizkit and Incubus, Rage Against the Machine do not cop-out by including a DJ. You may not believe it when you listen to it, but all of the turntable-esque noises that accompany Zack’s raps are created by Tom Morello’s deft manipulation of his instrument (this information is prominently displayed in all of their albums). Also, Zack almost always raps and very rarely sings, and his street-smart and politically aware lyrics come closer to convincing hip-hop subject matter than anything other bands have written. Other bands have missed the fact that rhymes, lyrics, and credibility are more fundamental to rap than its sonics (although rap’s “beat” is arguably more important to its white audience – the primary demographic for rap-rock). Limp Bizkit have incorporated mainstream rap’s overconfident swagger, and this may sell albums, but its flaky, commerical character makes its impact on rap-rock’s legitimacy as a subgenre marginal compared to Rage’s. Therefore, Rage have successfully fused what is essential about both rock and rap into a unique form that is worthy of the title “fusion,” and their work is probably respected by musicians of both genres more equally than any other band who has attempted this risky enterprise. That Rage organized a tour with Wu-Tang for a brief period is suggestive of this (note: Durst’s guest appearances on his albums were probably more indicative of the size of his band’s pocket book than genuine artistic respect. And Korn’s alliance with Ice Cube. . . let’s not even go there). Unfortunately, this incarnation of Rage only made 3 albums, due to Zack’s departure from the band. Whether this was motivated by egoistic hubris, a desire to leave no trace of “sell-out” on his band’s legacy (a label that was becoming more and more appropriate by the juxtaposition of the band’s huge commercial success with its anti-capitalist and anti-establishment lyrics), or something quite else, we probably won’t ever know. What we do know is that Mr. de la Rocha was upset about the fact that his lyrics (the band’s most important element to him) will never have as much impact as the stylistic and formal achievements this band makes on this album. Unquestionably a classic album – 5 stars, and one of the finer albums of the 90’s. Future bands who successfully fuse rap and rock elements will cite this band, and this album particularly, as a primary influence.

    Posted on December 2, 2009