Vinyl Vlog 525

Vinyl Vlog 525

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Rage Against the Machine
The Battle of Mexico City
Record Store Day Release

Let me start off this review by painting a picture of just how important Rage Against the Machine were to my development as a teenager.

Growing up in Aruba in the 90s, completely isolated from the world, we craved outside culture. We didn’t have a good idea of what was going on in the cool parts of the world (like the USA), so we’d rely on word of mouth from kids who’d been to the states and brought back a magazine, a video, a CD, SOME news of what was going on. We craved to be Americanized, but didn’t know how to do it. And, when we finally got American cable, that wish was finally granted.

There is was, all the TV, movies, news, music and culture we wanted. Right in front of our eyes. All of a sudden it mattered what you watched, what you wore, and what you listened to. And when I heard RATM for the first time, I knew I heard my musical calling.

Back then, it was important what you spent your money on, because we didn’t have jobs, really. So money was carefully budgeted, and when you spent it on music, you better make sure you got your money’s worth. I knew I wasn’t going to be the guy into rap, or reggae, so that left me with rock as the only option. I wanted this choice to count. With RATM, I knew I was getting loud, subversive music with a message. They were cool and I was getting style as well as substance.

Evil Empire was one of the first albums I ever bought and I remember spending my afternoons after school blasting their music out of my stereo carefully reading the lyrics, not understanding 90% of what they were talking about. Even now that I’m a history lover, I catch references to things they sang about 20  years ago. These guys seemed like musical geniuses and knowledgeable about politics the way I wish I was. RATM’s music sounded angry, unconventional, and was revolutionary at the time. The closest rap/rock ever got to being cool. I knew I was on the right track when my brother, who saw music just as a social stepping stone, mocked me for liking RATM. Years later, he would be much more accepting of them and I loved the idea of my brother thinking I was ahead of him on what was cool.

None of us in high school understood RATM, but we respected them, and I tried devouring everything in their catalog. Pickings were slim living on a rock on an ocean, but I got their selftitled as soon as it became available in stores in Aruba and asked for their VHS as a birthday gift to be sent to me by a relative in the states. I wanted RATM to stay in the spotlight, but they just weren’t putting out music fast enough. Back then, 4 years between albums seemed like an eternity, when bands like Oasis and Bush were moving much faster.

Then, as I waited for more RATM, punk happened to me and I got distracted. I was in the midst of a punk phase (which has stuck indefinitely, I might add) when their proper follow-up The Battle of Los Angeles was released. RATM not being the highlight of my friends’ musical consumption I wasn’t able to absorb the album quite like I wanted to. It seems like the world had moved on from them. But then, again, the band wasn’t as dedicated to themselves either. Battle of Los Angeles was to be their last original material as the band couldn’t quite keep their momentum, suffering from several breakups and short-lived reunions. Who knows? Maybe the train ran out of fuel or cooler heads failed to prevail. One thing’s for sure, looking back at their career, it seems like frontman Zach de la Rocha might have been the real life of RATM. The first sign was Audioslave, which was basically RATM fronted by Chris Cornell. The idea sounded great on paper, the results not so much. Even when we consider failed iterations of RATM’s music with guitarist Tom Morello as vocalist in the Nightwatchmen or a revisiting of the rap/rock formula with Prophets of Rage, it just leaves a sour taste in all our mouths. There was a certain sharpness that de la Rocha brought to the mix that’s just incomparable.

De la Rocha himself seems to have all but disappeared. There’s a solo album rumored to be in the works, but it hasn’t seen the light of day. One Day as a Lion was a comeback EP of sorts but it seems more like a one-off thing. His vocals have found guest spots on Run the Jewels albums and seem to work well in that mix. Somehow, de la Rocha is the least visible member post-RATM and the one that seems to be making the best music.

No one knows what’s going to happen to RATM, so we’re left looking back at the band’s music. Their catalog has now received a much-needed reissue on vinyl from Legacy and it’s pretty joyful revisiting it after all these years. Their selftitled debut is definitely a product of its time and sounds radical and gutsy. It takes itself very seriously (as does all their music) and deserves to be considered as the impactful album it was. Evil Empire hits the sweet spot for me for reasons I already outlined. And Battle of Los Angeles feels a little mainstream and incomplete at times, but has some of those serious riffs that are as loud as they are catchy. Surprisingly, Renegades (their cover album) is the one I tend to enjoy most these days. The production and reworking of these classics are about as “fun” as this band will ever get.

The RATM catalogue is a time capsule but still packs quite a punch. Fans like me will find plenty to appreciate and enjoy here and hopefully the new listener who hasn’t been jaded by all the wrong turns of rap/rock will too. At least we can all agree: MAN, these guys knew how to write riffs.

In 1999, as part of their Battle of Los Angles tour, RATM played Mexico City for the first time. To commemorate the occasion, the band recorded the live performance and released it as a film, aptly titled “The Battle of Mexico City.” The DVD included cool bonus content, like an interview with Noam Chomsky and a message from Subcomandante Marcos of the EZLN. This even is now further commemorated by this vinyl release of the concert on a double LP (red and green), and is a must-have for fans of the band who want to hear a band at their peak performance even when they were about to call it quits. It also has the charming distinction of being the second live performance release of the band, and arguably their best.

Comments are closed.