(In this post, Phro commemorates the 20th anniversary of Rage Against the Machine’s debut album as only Phro can.)
So, all this talk about Hacktivist has mostly been like water off a horny duck’s back to me, but it has had one interesting effect: reminding me of how great Rage Against the Machine is. Well, apparently, November 3rd was the 20th anniversary of Rage Against the Machine’s debut, self-titled album. As I read this article on Stereogum (I ended up there from a link on The Atlantic because otherwise I would have no fucking clue something called “Stereogum” existed), I realized: holy fuck balls, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to this album. Obviously, like many people, I’ve heard “Killing in the Name” and “Wake Up,” but that’s probably the extent of my knowledge of the album.
“Well, that’s weirder than seeing Willy Wonka fucking a dentist to death with a strap-on made of candy corn,” I thought to myself. Especially considering how damn much I loved Evil Empire, The Battle of Los Angeles, and even their covers albums Renegades. So, I figured, why not review the album with almost completely fresh ears? And that’s what I’ve done. I’m writing this stream of conscious as I’m listening to each track only once.
Enjoy! And be sure to tell me why I’m a total fucking distended asshole in the comments.
Apparently, I’m going to burn. I wonder if that sounded menacing in 1992. Now, it just sounds like they’re threatening me with a horrible case of herpes. The verse riff is good. I think that if I had heard this when it was brand new in 1992, I would have blown a nut out of my mouth while head-bobbing so hard I got brain damage. I probably would have started jumping around my room in my underwear, too, trying to tear the arms off of teddy bears, waving my 9-year-old cock around like it was Indiana Jones’s whip. (I really wouldn’t have known what else to do with it.)
“Killing in the Name”
This first riff sounds eerily like a Korn riff, though I have no idea which one. (Actually, I guess there’s a Korn riff that sounds like the first riff.) This track has a slow, creeping build-up, like a porn star starting with gentle fucking only to switch to the ol’ legs-behind-the-head jackhammering that always reminds one of a horse fucking a wiener dog. (No? Just me?) But that build-up surely does work well. Again: teddy bears would be torn the fuck up.
The lyrics are slightly baffling to me: “Some of those that wear forces/ Are the same that burn crosses.” Is this some sort of code that I’m unfamiliar with? Or is Zack de la Rocha implying that some Jedis are part of the KKK? The little guitar widdly-widdly freak out just before the final chorus is kinda fun. Morello is good at making weird noises. Oh, snap, he said “motherfucker;” 9-year-old me just busted another nut.
“Take the Power Back”
Funky yet haunting bass line by Commerford. I don’t listen to much funk (or any at all, really), but I would say that this riff is super funky. I literally can’t pay attention to anything else going on in this song, because of how funky the bass is. I wanna shake my booty. Oh, the chorus is changing it up. Apparently, we need to take the power back, too. Nevermind, it’s getting funky again. How can Zach be so angry with such a killer bass line?? Hey, a real fucking guitar solo. I thought Morello never deigned to use regular guitar notes. How wrong I was! This song feels like it should have been about minute shorter. Not sure what they were going for at the end; it really feels like they have a few too many ingredients for one song.
The guitar works well in the intro. The haunting howls, like autumn wind through yellow leaves, reflects the depression of the lyrics about a young man who’s grown up in a horrible home life. (Is this about kids turning to gang violence as a way to escape a shitty situation?) I don’t have anything funny to say about this song. I think it works damn well so far. Okay, hold up, this weird Hawaiian sounding guitar solo is kind of ruining it for me. It seems totally out of place, like an upbeat musical interlude of Jews dancing and singing in the middle of Schindler’s List. (How embarrassed will I be if that happened and I just forgot about it?) After that, the song gets back in it’s groove and ends strong. But still…that was a damn weird interlude.
“Bullet in the Head”
This song is kind of slow. It’s got my head bobbing, definitely, and the fuzzy guitars are good. I’m not entirely sure what the lyrics are about (again). What the hell is an “in-house drive-by?” I have a feeling that much of what Zach is rap-shouting about made more sense in the 90’s. “A bullet in your head” seems to make up the bulk of the second half of the song, which I suppose tells us how they got the name for the song. (I would put money on them having come up with the title first and then deciding on a quota for how many times they would have use it to make sure that the audience doesn’t forget how edgy the song title is.)
“Know Your Enemy”
Another bombtrack, he says! Woo! I like this bombtrack, it’s going hard like a drunk dad at a little league game; no slow build like the other songs. Very direct. 9-year-old me is jumping around and slapping petulant teddy bears against the headboard of his bed. “Take that, coppers!” he screams, shoving his fist in the air. (Apparently “Know Your Enemy” is also the a name of a Green Day song, which I found out while looking up the lyrics to the song.) Oh, fuck, what the shit is happening in this bridge??? They’re all singing softly. I think they wanna take me out on a date—no, wait, they’re just sick of complacence. (It’s like some of Tool’s less-weird-but-still-freaky moments.) The guitar goes insane like Morello got hit with an alien spasm-ray before the repetitive outro about American dreams.
Oh, shit, this was in The Matrix! Damn, from the last scene, too. Oh, shit, you guys, that scene was fucking amazing when it came out. Neo was all like…actually, I don’t remember what he said into the phone, but then he flew off like Goth Superman before the credits rolled.
Zach sounds proper pissed-the-fuck-off and the whole band is coming correct here. They are flowing like Mohammed Ali in his prime. Seriously, if this song were a boxing match, it would be knockout in the first round. They are using the build up/release thing over and over in this song, but it works. Shit, I might even dick-slap a teddy bear before this is through. Oh, goddamnit, look, a “mellow” bridge. See, this why the nineties sucked: we don’t need no stinking mellow shit!! Oh, now he’s telling me to wake up. Dude, you wouldn’t have to yell like that if you’d skip the boring bridges. I’m not taking the blame here, buddy.
Damn, I gotta pee…be right back. Pause it, goddamnit!
“Fistful of Steel”
This song is starting out like an electric storm resolving into a coherent message from a minor thunder deity. A nice marching vibe at the beginning gives way to a shrieking guitar, a thick, fat bass, some angry spitting, and nice lock-step drumming. The verses in this song are very “thin,” if you will. Aside from the shrieking guitar, it’s very sparse, forcing Zach to sort of carry the song until the chorus. The chorus definitely gets you up and moving around. Oh, a guitar solo that sounds like it was stolen from Q-Bert’s Wave Twisters album. (That’s high praise, in my opinion.) Looking at the lyrics, I just realized that the “fistful of steel” is referring to a microphone, not a gun. That’s…actually, I like it.
The guitar and bass sound like a goddamn didjeridoo in this song. You gotta give it up for that. I like the instrumental parts between the verses more than the verses, but there is way too goddamn much cowbell. The choruses are fun though. What the fuck is with this solo? Seriously, it sounds like the soundtrack to robot porn. (80’s robot porn. Ewww…that’d be messy to clean up.) Ho’ fuck! Zach just hulked out!!! Then something about shackles, crosses, and ignorance reigning. What the hell is a silent platform???? Doesn’t matter because 9-year-old me is definitely hulking out too. He might even tear up a few newspapers.
Yes, this is starting good. (The lyrics I found on Lyricsmode.com include this little gem: “Wuh! (sung sorta like michael jackson).” Made me giggle.) Me and 9-year-old me are wearing buckets on our heads like helmets and stomping around outside with sticks for rifles. We’re going to war, gents, get your GRRRR faces on! Wait, a poker metaphor? I…I don’t get it. Tic-tac-toe? Does Zach have a gaming problem? TOO FUCKING MUCH COWBELL! Oh, back to the marching! Stab, stab, stoooooomp!!!!
The pent-up anger is very thick and tasty on this song, but every time he mentions tic-tac-toe, I can’t help feeling like he ran out of lyrics and just ripped a page out of a children’s book. And, now, I think he’s jerking off while moaning about freedom. This…just got awkward. Don’t look, 9-year-old me, don’t look. Or, actually, you know, in a few years, you’ll be doing this so much your dick bleeds, so, uh…just try not to stare.
Well, that’s the album. I gotta say, as much as I loved their later albums, this one just doesn’t quite do it for me. You can hear how they were definitely still looking for their sound, but it’s hardly a bad album. Still, it definitely doesn’t have that 100% dedicated to ripping face off and pouring lemon juice all over bloody skin.
I think The Battle of Los Angeles will continue to be my favorite Rage Against the Machine album, with Renegades a close second. I like Evil Empire, and I’m glad I took the time to give the self-titled album a proper listen, because it definitely puts their whole oeuvre in perspective. Still, when I’m in the mood for good rap/rock, I doubt I’ll put this album on again. It’s hardly a bad album, but it lacks the focused refinement that I find on their later albums.