Well, it’s been a busy year for Tom Morello and Prophets of Rage. The band formed out of his inability to reunite Rage Against The Machine, combining the musicians in that band with new singers and a DJ, started off as a voice of protest to a journalist claiming that Donald Trump was ‘raging against the machine’. Tom famously had a different machine in mind. RATM were without a doubt the most political band of their generation and this new band was formed with a political goal in mind, to energise people to vote against a Trump presidency. That action clearly failed. So how does the new album hold up?
First of all, this is not RATM. You don’t get Zack Dela Rocha screaming passionately. Chuck D and B-Real are rappers, and while Zack never really sang, he didn’t often rap, either. Tom’s guitar playing was always inspired by trying to sound like a DJ with a turntable, and now DJ Lord also fulfills that role. Zack probably came closest to rapping on tracks like ‘Maggies Farm’, and the truth is, while the vocal style is different, the rap influence was always there, and it certainly fits. Naturally, fans would love to hear new material with Zack, but in the meantime, this needs to be treated as a different beast and accepted for what it is.
The members of this band have always made political music and the album opens with ‘Radical Eyes’, talking about the spread of (mis)information on the internet and how the views being put forward are regarded by some as radical. Three songs were released on YouTube before this album dropped and they cluster near the start of the album, with only one new song as track 3, making it immediately familiar. Next track is ‘Unfuck the world’, a cry against racism and hate, and the other known track is Living on the 110, talking about homelessness in LA.
Tom Morello has always been a unique voice on guitar but the fact is, his overt politics have always taken center stage. If you’ve ever shared a meme about white genocide or ‘Blue lives matter’, if you love Trump or vote One Nation, if your Facebook profile pic is a cartoon frog, odds are good that you’ll hate this music no matter what it sounds like. On the other hand, if the idea of the man who rapped a song called ‘Cop Killer’ combined with the guy who wrote ‘Killing in the name of’ leaves you wanting a chance to go to a gig and scream ‘Fuck racists’, then you are bound to love every moment of this album.
First new track, ‘Legalize Me‘, is a complete left turn, sounding mostly like Cyprus Hill and obviously about legalizing dope. B-Real clearly takes the front seat on this one. The song is a lot more ‘open’ than the ones before it. A break from the anger is welcome and adds depth to the album.
The rage soon returns, with ‘Hail to the Chief‘ a primal scream in the face of Donald Trump and the situation in the USA. ‘Take Me Higher‘ starts with a Mexican feel before settling in to a groove that is quite funky. The song is about surveillance by drones. Strength in Numbers is about the Dakota pipeline protests, and ordinary working people who went to take part in it. Like Rage against the Machine, the songs address a diverse range of issues and it’s clear the band is serious about its politics and plugged in to a number of issues. ‘Fired a shot‘ revisits the themes of ‘Cop Killer‘ and touches on legalization of marijuana.
The last three songs are essentially about activism in general. Who own who is particularly strong, at least as good as any of the songs released prior to the album. It also contains more guitar than a lot of the songs. As the album pushes to its conclusion, it just gets stronger and stronger. It’s worth remembering this is a debt from a supergroup of sorts, made up of industry veterans who have the skills to write good songs and are motivated by the message they want to push to do so.
There will be people who love this album and don’t much care about the words. There will be people who love the views on this album, but don’t much like this sort of music. The sweet spot is definitely for people who like heavy music, who at least don’t object to it being mixed with rap, and who love the things this album has to say. For those people, this may well be the album of the year. For people not fussed about knowing how much the band gives to homeless shelters or how outspoken they are on politics, there’s still a lot to love here, but it probably won’t grip you as completely. Either way, it’s a must purchase for fans of RATM, and that era of music. The goal was to galvanise people, but the truth is, they are mostly preaching to the converted. As a tool to preach a point of view, it’s likely to have limited success. As an album, it’s fresh and exciting. Here’s hoping they bring it to our shores sometime soon.