Inconsistent, but damn funky.
As you’ll know from my glowing review of Evil Empire and my inclusion of Rage in my Top Ten Bands That Do Music, I’m a big fan of ’em. Big fat riffs and amazing rap singing is a good combination. Even though the last couple of albums they did saw them go off the boil a little, The Battle of Los Angeles and Renegades remain great albums.
Renegades is different, though. Very different. The most significant difference is obviously that it’s entirely composed of cover songs, of various different artists ranging from acts such as The Rolling Stones, The Stooges, Devo and Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan? How did they make his stuff Rage Against the Machine-y? Oh well. They did. In fact, even though every song is a cover, they all sound like new Raga Against the Machine songs – with some new musical influences. At least, they mostly do.
The album starts impressively, anyway. It does this with Microphone Fiend, originally by Erik B. & Rakim, which is an unmistakably Rage-y sounding song. It’s got a brilliantly powerful riff, with fantastic guitar and bass work throughout and a matured sounding vocal performance from Zack de la Rocha. It’s also got a particularly catchy chorus and powerful lyrics as always. It’s a complete Rage song, and one of their better ones, I think.
The next track, Pistol Grip Pump, is the first one on the record to make obvious it’s a cover album. It conveys different vocal techniques from De la Rocha, trying more classic rap techniques – like the one Anthony Kiedis likes to give a go sometimes. He’s good at it, but the song isn’t a special one. Sure, it’s a decent listen, but with a simple drum beat, more classic rap music style – which I don’t like that much – and a lack of aggression or much pace — and, regrettably, a bit of a repetitive sound — it isn’t amazing.
Then there’s Kick Out the Jams, which is a confusing song. Originally an MC5 song, it’s not the style of music I’m used to hearing when I listen to Rage Against the Machine. It’s classic, 1960’s sort of rock, which is too innocent to contain the powerful lyrics and aggression Rage so brilliantly do. Also, it’s got singing, and Zack de la Rocha tries that out. He doesn’t do quite as good a job at that. It’s a decent track, but again, not amazing.
But then I’m Housin’ comes From out of Nowhere!!!! Sorry Anthony Kiedis. Sorry anyone who has no idea what I’m talking about. It’s Faith no More. They’re a good band. Anyway! Sorry everyone! I just love that I could make that reference. Now, I’m Housin’ brings back Rage’s classic style emphatically, replacing the other styles that didn’t quite work before it. With a satisfying, deep and groovy bass line, a great vocal performance from De la Rocha and a well-worked increase in pace and power, it’s one of the best songs the album has to offer. It’s not too different from Without a Face on Evil Empire.
What comes next, though, is better. Renegades of Funk, the second to last ever Rage single, and one of the best ones. With a fittingly Rage-y political undertone, it’s a groovy, aptly funky song. It has fantastically varied percussion work, and perfectly understated bass work, making the song quiet, but loud through Zack de la Rocha’s aggression in his perfect rap-singing. It’s proper Rage Against the Machine, but in a new, less lound, power chord and pounding drumming based, more funky way. It’s a very good track.
What’s after that, though? Yep, back to some different styles again. These ones don’t quite work either. Beautiful World is too soppy, and way, way too quiet and un-Rage-y (I’ve said “Rage-y” a lot, haven’t I…); and the track after, In My Eyes, has Tire Me (from Evil Empire) like potential, with an in your face, punky approach. But it’s a forgettable song, which is too repetetive and doesn’t provide anything particularly catchy or head-nod provoking – which is what I’d want.
Almost thankfully, after that brace there isn’t much variation in the songs in term of genre. How I Could Just Kill a Man brings back the groove portrayed in Renegades of Funk and I’m Housin’, but also has that Tire Me/Snakecharmer style in there. It’s not wasted potential in this instance, though; it’s a great song. The next track, The Ghost of Tom Joad, isn’t too dissimilar to a song like Roll Right and Revolver of Evil Empire or possibly Born of a Broken Man of The Battle of Los Angeles. But it explores more classic funk rock styles also, with nonchalant, slow rap-singing over a whammy bar guitar riff. After that is Down on the Street, a very Evil Empire sounding song, with the same sort of effect on his voice and more general aggressiveness. But it’s also particularly Battle of Los Angeles like, with the riff reminiscent of Sleep Now in the Fire’s. Another groovy song. Finally, before I get onto the last song, there’s Street Fighting Man, originally by The Rolling Stones. It’s keeps their recognizable song, but with a very well implemented aggressive rap approach to make it sound a bit more like a good Battle of Los Angeles song, or possibly even Fistful of Steel from the original album.
Yes, I’ll talk about my last track now; Maggie’s Farm. It starts a bit like Year of tha Boomerang, but then after the first ten-ish seconds comes an incredible riff, which the aforementioned song missed. I guess with this song, being by Bob Dylan to start with, they probably just used his lyrics; because it’s proper, 1992 Rage Against the Machine. In fact, it sounds better. Zack de la Rocha’s vocals remain at their very best, as in most tracks in Renegades; aggressive, matured and cool. The fantastic bass line carries the track along with pounding drums, and the guitar brings impressive power; as the noise builds throughout the song, through varying sequences and variation in pace: but a constant build in power and momentum. It’s one of my favourite Rage Against the Machine, with a good amount of groove, funk, anger, power and Tom Morello’s immense guitar work. It was the perfect way for the band to finish off, even though the album as a whole maybe could have been a bit better.
Renegades is extra funky, groovy and catchy, with a handful of fantastic songs. Zack de la Rocha’s vocal performance was his best for the most part in this record, and so was Tom Morello’s, Tim Commerford’s and Brad Wilk’s performance on their respective instruments; in a musically accomplished album. However, inconsistency is a glaring issue, with one handful of the songs exploring different genres and failing to produce memorable or particularly great songs out of it, and the other handful being fantastic – at least with Maggie’s Farm, Microphone Fiend and Renegades of Funk, which I list along with classics such as Bulls on Parade as some of their best ever.
In some ways, the best way to end Rage Against the Machine, in some ways, not quite; overall, a great album.