Wednesday, March 26, 2008

No. 426: The Battle of Los Angeles

Band: Rage Against the Machine
Album: The Battle of Los Angeles
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: RATM's final album is full of the band's fury and Zack de la Rocha's hot fire-spitting. "Sleep Now in the Fire" and "Guerrilla Radio" are both classics in the band's canon and "New Millennium Homes" isn't bad.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's formulaic, certainly. The hooks aren't as hook-y as the band's earlier work and de la Rocha is pretty mediocre.
Best song: "Sleep Now in the Fire" and "Guerrilla Radio" are the best songs on the record.
Worst song: "Ashes in the Fall" stinks.
Is it awesome?: Not really.

"Wait. That album is on the Rolling Stone list? Not 'Evil Empire?' Really?"
"Dude. That album sucks. 'Evil Empire' is much better."

And so went a conversation I had with an actual RATM fan this weekend about this album coming up on the list.

While the band's first album was a revelation, this record -- the band's final before breaking up -- is more repetitive. While Tom Morello's expanse of effects and guitar sounds had opened up for "The Battle of Los Angeles," the general feel of the album is one of repetition.

In an odd way, the album is decidedly listenable. When most of the songs sound the same (heavy riff, guitarless bass part, scream/sing chorus, bad rapping, etc.), the formula gets to be pretty familiar. It's not a bad formula, so, the record ends up being pretty decent. Lyrically, it's focused, but that focus is not as chantable as the first record. Therefore, the record didn't sell.

Also, the video for "Guerilla Radio" is very clever. The band quotes Orwell in three tracks on the record, which I always support. But, overall, it's repetition of the same formula.


I wrote a really long political rant here (that I've since deleted for fear of getting fired from my real job), but the gist of it was this:

In my piece about RATM's first record, I used the phrase "socialism doesn't really work well." I stand by this, with the caveat that I don't believe in market capitalism, either. Market capitalism is wildly destructive and I am not one of those people who's all "market will fix everything." A mix of the two is the best way to go about a state's economic policy.

1 comment:

padraig said...

Of course I loved "Evil Empire" when it came out because I was a 12 yr old boy who listened to Q101 and at the time knew next to nothing about hip hop and absolutely nothing about funk. It's kind of a shame, b/c unlike all the godawful nu-metal that followed in their (and Faith No More's) wake they could really play - I think a big key to their sound was that instead of just throwing terrible rapping over tepid hard rock, they incorporated the funk on which hip hop was initially based. The rapping was still terrible of course, but the beats knocked, so to speak. In fairness I think most of their material is tougher to flow over than say, a Pete Rock beat, but I can only wonder what they would've been like with a Masta Ace or Pharoahe Monch on the mic.

Of course by the time this album came out I had, like a lot of people, totally outgrown their college revolutionary schtick. Which doesn't really make sense if you think about it - you'd think that intelligent dudes like de la Rocha & Morello the Harvard poli-sci major would be able to construct a political message that wasn't so cliched and boring. And I WANT to agree with them most of the time but they generally come off like student activists who know just enough to pretend that they know what they're talking about.

And it's really a shame, for many reasons, that Limp Bizkit & Co. blundered along and ruined the commercial viability, if not the concept, of mixing hip hop and hard rock.