Rage Against the Machine
Rage Against the Machine: 20th Anniversary Edition
Epic Records/ Legacy Recordings
Twenty years ago, back when Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden were taking over the radio and the "alternative" movement was just starting to orbit the earth, a quartet from Los Angeles was about to take over the corporate airwaves with an intensity so fierce and musicianship so original that the "suits" at Epic Records signed them and, despite the irony, launched an essential album of the 20th Century.
The self-titled debut album from Rage Against the Machine became and still is the best rebel record of all time. Nobody has come close to the lyrical genius of Zack de la Rocha. "Bombtrack" opens the album with lines like "I warm my hands on the flames of the flag" followed by the iconic "Killing in the Name" that ends with de la Rocha screaming "F--- you, I won't do what I'm told!"
While the lyrics are a Bible for anarchists, the album reaches legendary status because of the back beat provided by drummer Brad Wilk and the impeccably tattooed Timmy C. (aka Tim Commerford) and the guitar wizardry of Tom Morello. When the album was originally released, there was a sticker on the outside that said that there were no turntables or programming used on the record at all. Inside the liner notes it reads, "No samples, keyboards, or synthesizers used in the making of this recording."
After listening to this the first time, I felt lied to. There is no way anybody can create some of those sounds on a guitar. "Bullet in the Head" sounds like it's filled with scratched records on turntables. "Know Your Enemy" has to have keyboards mixed in. You mean to tell me that Tom Morello can do that with a guitar? Once I saw them live (on TV) I was blown away... again.
Yes, Morello does make all those sounds on his guitar. Yes, he can do it live, too. Yes, Wilk and Commerford can lay a back beat better than anybody from that era. And yes, de la Rocha is that pissed and he can spit venom that makes you not just listen, but act. He wants to piss you off so you'll get up and do something. When he raps "Ya know they went after King/ When he spoke out on Vietnam/ He turned the power to the have-nots/ And then came the shot," he wants you to take that and learn about it. Find the truth. Fight the power. "Why stand on a silent platform/ Fight the war/ F--- the norm," he raps on "Township Rebellion."
This is why Rage Against the Machine, and this album in particular is (not was) so important. Every lyric is just as viable today as it was 20 years ago. The music has not aged a day. And as if you needed another reason to check out the 20th Anniversary Edition of this album, there are three live tracks ("Bombtrack," "Bullet in the Head," and "Take the Power Back") and, fun fact, Tool's Maynard James Keenan makes a cameo on "Know Your Enemy."
While Rage never did fully recreate the intense fury of their self-titled debut, the band and this album will go down as the greatest "Fight the Power" ensemble of all time.