Thursday, August 2, 2007

[099] The Battle Of Los Angeles

Album: The Battle Of Los Angeles
Artist: Rage Against The Machine
Release Date: November 1999
Label: Epic
Producer: Brendan O’Brien

"And Orwell's hell a terror era coming through
But this little brother's watching you too"
- Zack de la Rocha, "Voice Of The Voiceless"

I will tell you now that Rage Against The Machine’s much-beloved self-titled debut from 1992 is not on this list. It was replaced by this album, because this album is better. You can argue that the debut contains Rage classics like “Freedom”, “Bombtrack”, and “Killing In The Name”, and so it must be included! And I will argue that any song from BoLA’s flawless second half is stronger, especially “War Within A Breath”, the absolutely terrifying “Ashes In The Fall”, and the brilliant "Maria", my pick for their best song, a song so good it packs the power of the entirety of Led Zeppelin IV into 3 minutes and 48 seconds. And there’s still the first half, with great singles like “Guerrilla Radio”, the rallying cry of “Testify”, the vicious “Sleep Now In The Fire”, and the incredible swinging pimp stroll of “Calm Like A Bomb”.

I will simply ask you to go back and listen to that debut all the way through. You will find that Zack de la Rocha’s lyrics are much simpler and more immature than you remember. His flow is virtually non-existent – not that that mattered to you when you were in High School, and you just wanted to yell “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me!” On BoLA, he has finally become an MC the way he always thought of himself, equal parts Chuck D and Ian MacKaye, KRS-One and Joe Strummer. The rhythm section of drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford sound stiff on the debut, banging out bad approximations of the Red Hot Chili Peppers; by BoLA, they’ve grown light years. Wilk manages to hybridize classic rock drumming with breakbeats, and produces a singular style that is instantly recognizable, while Tim C. found range, now able to do much more than just pummel and slap his bass. And of course there’s guitarist Tom Morello, who revolutionized guitar playing with those memorable songs, but now those songs make him sound like a holdover from 80’s hair metal, or at least a clone of Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, dropping busy solos that Nuno from Extreme wishes he wrote. On BoLA, Morello plays with swagger and confidence; he’s still exploring the guitar, but now he’s more interested in the body, the dials, the pickups, the effects pedals in front of him, than he is in the fretboard. On the solos, he holds and plays his guitar more like a DJ uses a turntable; otherwise, he strips his playing to its minimum – supreme riffs that grab you by the lapels. The result of these advances is a meaner & leaner Rage, one that spits venom at every turn.

This album holds a special place for me. Around Christmas 1999, I bought a new stereo, and The Battle Of Los Angeles was the first CD I popped into it. I had never had surround sound before, so I put that on, turned it up loud, and hit play. The magnificent “Testify” punched me square in the nose; the sound was so good, you would’ve thought that Rage was in my bedroom. I quickly learned that this was due the greatness of the album, and not my new stereo system. Not one album has ever sounded that good since.

01. "Testify"
02. "Guerrilla Radio"
03. "Calm Like A Bomb"
04. "Mic Check"
05. "Sleep Now In The Fire"
06. "Born Of A Broken Man"
07. "Born As Ghosts"
08. "Maria"
09. "Voice Of The Voiceless"
10. "New Millennium Homes"
11. "Ashes In The Fall"
12. "War Within A Breath"

"Testify" [video]

When I made the list, one of the many albums that just missed out was the great 1991 debut from Cypress Hill. So as a bonus, here's Rage & Cypress coming together on the CH classic "How I Could Just Kill A Man".

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