Rage Against The Machine is the first album by the band of the same name. It was released on November 3, 1992, by Columbia Records and totals fifty two minutes and forty eight seconds over ten tracks. All of the songs on this album had the music written by Rage Against The Machine and lyrics written by Zack de la Rocha with some serious influence from guitarist Tom Morello. It is my belief (and the belief of many others, as well) that this album is the high point in the Rage Against The Machine catalog.
This band was mostly signed to Columbia in the wake of the huge success of Nirvana's breakthrough album, Nevermind, and the resulting mad rush of every label in the country to seek out and "discover" any edgy band with even a touch of talent. Rage Against The Machine, regardless of how you feel about their politics or their music, has to be considered one of the better finds, probably best shown here on their debut album. The album is a mixture of rap, hardcore, funk, jazz, and heavy guitars, creating an edgy and sometimes violent feel; this was one of the first groups to really mix heavy rock, rap, and funk (Body Count, from the same timeframe, also comes to mind).
What set the group apart, though, and brought them such widespread success was the extremely well-done melody underneath all the noise and rage, and above it all, Zack's lyrics that spoke of anarchy and politics, a theme that had basically been ignored in music for many years. When I first heard this disc in eary 1993, it was perhaps the freshest thing my ears had ever heard; it truly sounded different than everything else and in a good way. This album was a groundbreaker, and it paved the way for many solid but lesser rap-rock fusion groups to follow.
The album opens with Bombtrack (4:05), one of the singles from the album. The melody under the song here is fantastic, and the lyrics tell the tale of a member of an oppressed race responding by placing and igniting bombs, perhaps both intellectual and literal, depending on your perspective. The song makes clear the band's militant political perspective in its lyrics. It's not your ordinary rap song that discusses manifest destiny as this one does.
The second track was also a single. Killing In The Name (5:14) seems to cry out against pseudo-religious groups who use their righteousness and influence to spread pain and death. The lengthy intro to the song, featuring a lot of guitars playing with a variety of hooks before settling on one to use throughout the song, is fantastic, demonstrating clearly that the appeal of this band isn't just ideological.
Take The Power Back (5:37) is perhaps the best song by the band in terms of lyrics, although I'm sure you'll find argument from other fans of the group. The song is mostly about how education is being used to plant false ideas in the mind of America's youth, Eurocentric ideas that promote a government agenda rather than promote the truth. The references are quite diverse, even referring to an American student militia group from the 1960s called the Weather men. The meshing of guitar and percussion all throughout this song is fantastic as well, making it perhaps the best song on the album.
Settle For Nothing (4:48) is much more despondent in nature than the songs before; it's about reacting to oppression with acts of intense violence (suicide and genocide are described). I feel as though this song is rather over the top; I realize the group has a militant stance and all and I can swallow that (mostly because they have some valid social points), but responding purely with mass acts of violence triggers a response of extreme distaste from me, especially in light of recent events.
The fifth track, Bullet In The Head (5:10), is another lyrically brilliant track, something the group often does very well. This one is about how ideas are planted in the head by television and mass media, and the tone and melody of the song fits the theme very well; it just clicks as a good song should. The "bullet in the head" here is a corrupted idea, not a literal bullet.
Know Your Enemy (4:56) kicks off the second half of the album with a song about police brutality touched all over with literary references (including a nice one to Henry James). The music is solid and aggressive as usual. This is a song I would point to to demonstrate how solid overall this album is; it doesn't particularly stick out in any way but is an excellent track on its own.
It is tempting to point to the seventh track, Wake Up (6:04), as having the best lyrics on the album. It does feature one of my favorite verses of all time ("networks at work keepin people calm / ya know they murdered X / and tried to blame it on islam / he turned the power to the have nots / and then came the shots"). The song mostly centers around the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, loaded with references to leaders and celebrities tied into the movement (Muhammed Ali, Flip Wilson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, J. Edgar Hoover, and others). The rampant, driving guitar work carries the song greatly, particularly in the bridge in the middle.
Fistful Of Steel (5:31) is perhaps the weakest song on the album, not really having the direction and purpose of the other tracks. Even the normally solid music comes off as more aimless, with the particularly annoying repeated siren sound bringing this track down to mediocre, which is far below average for this disc.
Thankfully, the album ends with two strong tracks. Township Rebellion (5:24) argues the case of civic revolt in times of civic dissatisfaction, pointing to Johannesburg, South Africa and south central Los Angeles during early 1990s times of trial as examples. The idea of revolt in times of severe dissatisfaction is quite sensible; after all, it was exactly how the government of the United States was formed, as were most world governments.
The album ends with another single from the album. Freedom (6:07) is musically very strong, maybe the best on the album in terms of the instrumentation. The lyrics are solid once again, questioning the nature of freedom and judging the American version of freedom in this age of monstrous corporations to be very poor. An excellent close to the album.
If Rage Against The Machine seems like a band that you wouldn't like, I'd still recommend picking this album up out of a used CD bin sometime. The underlying melodies are incredible and the album still sounds as fresh today as it did when it was first released in late 1992. If you truly like this album, I would recommend picking up their albums in order, following this one with their 1996 album Evil Empire, so that you can truly get a sense of their musical progression.