With a Bang, Not a Whimper – Rage Against the Machine – Renegades
When Zack De La Rocha quit the band in October 2000, it effectively ended Rage Against The Machine as we know it, but at least Zack left this one last gem of a covers album in his wake. What a way to say goodbye
This compilation of 12 cover songs reminds me a lot of Guns ‘N Roses 1993 album The Spaghetti Incident in terms of conception. Both are albums of covers that just happened to be the last statement of the first incarnations of both bands.
But that’s where the similarities end. Whereas Spaghetti Incident was just a half-assed side project for GNR taken on during the recording of the Use Your Illusion albums, Renegades was well planned out by RATM. Lack of execution made Spaghetti Incident flop, but Renegades will not meet the same fate.
Renegades is a surprisingly diverse album from Rage. A good case could be made that the previous three RATM albums were too similar. The band took a good thing and overdid it, but not here.
This album is a cross-section of the band’s influences, from hip-hop to punk to speed metal to classic rock to new wave to campfire folk ballads. The band managed to take all these songs and make them distinctly its own. The album is a textbook study of how to do cover songs right.
Renegades was an exercise in song reconstruction. The band just took the lyrics of the tune and totally rewrote the instrumental accompaniment in most cases. The punk and metal songs, MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams,” “In Your Eyes” by Minor Threat and “Down On The Street” by Iggy Pop’s The Stooges were pretty much left in tact, but the others were changed radically.
The most striking change may be what RATM did to Devo’s “Beautiful World.” The 80s new wave beat was discarded, and the tune was turned into a slow, eerie, ballad in which De La Rocha actually tries singing instead of the typical angry whisper or scream. It’s totally unlike anything Rage ever did before.
I really like what they did to the classic rock songs, probably because I have a point of reference in the originals. The Rolling Stones “Street Fighting Man” is given a techno edge. Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” is “Rageified” in the band’s trademark loud, slow style, where the anger just seethes out of every pore until the piece becomes a six and a half minute long jam with an extended instrumental coda. Tom Morello is a technical genius with all the sounds he can get out of an electric guitar, and I don’t use that term lightly.
Elsewhere, Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” a long-time Rage concert staple, is finally given a studio treatment by the band. It is transformed from a wistful folk ballad, and made into a rocker.
Not surprisingly, De La Rocha shines most on the rap tracks, which include Cypress Hill’s “How I Could Just Kill A Man,” EPMD’s “I’m Housin’,” Eric B. & Rakim’s “Microphone Fiend” Volume 10’s “Pistol Grip Pump,” and the best one, “Renegades of Funk” by early hip-hop artist Afrika Bambaataa. The outpouring of passion and rocking instrumental backgrounds of these tracks make them compelling even to someone who dislikes the hip-hop genre.
The original pressing of the album includes two bonus live tracks, versions of “Kick Out The Jams” and “How I Could Just Kill A Man.” On the latter, Rage pays homage to Cypress Hill, who were among the earliest supporters of the band, by inviting Cypress’s Sen Dog and B-Real onstage for the song. This is especially interesting because B-Real is a potential replacement for De La Rocha. So this track may be a preview of RATM’s future.
De La Rocha’s RATM will be missed. Future lineups will never quite be the same. As anyone in a band will tell you, it is so hard to get the right combination of people, and when you get it, it is like a precious jewel, impossible to replicate. Rage virtually created a whole musical style. It was the original rap-rock band, and the best. The Renegades album is all the proof you need