Prophets of Rage, Prophets of Rage
After several reunion shows in the late noughties, Rage Against the Machine went back into hibernation. Fans held their breath for new material but RATM were not to continue beyond their 3 amazing albums (and fun covers album, Renegades). The three remaining members in Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk, sans Zac De La Rocha, also had success with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell with Audioslave, a rockier version of the backbone of RATM, but with the tragic death of Cornell, there was no future for Audioslave to reemerge as one of the best modern rock bands either. Guitarist, Tom Morello returned briefly to the political world funk-rock-rap with Boots Riley in the underwhelming Street Sweeper Social Club, and has hovered around with his quieter alter-ego, the Nightwatchman. However, several years later with a similar socialist aesthetic, the remaining members of RATM team up with members of classic rap groups Cypress Hill and Public Enemy for an album that differs enough from RATM that proves to be more than a rehash of former days.
The album opens with ‘Radical Eyes’, an odd choice for an album opener considering how slow-paced the song is for an aggressive album. Despite this, the song has staple RATM moments of funk, big drum hits, gang vocals and the usually Morello Whammy Pedal/Wah combo. The next song ‘Unf*** the World’ is their Killing in the Name of – an anthem and call to arms that quickly ups the ante. ‘Legalize Me’ changes the tone to one of pure Hendrix-funk and grooves – easily one of the most fun moments of the album.
Living on the 110 discuses problems of homelessness in America with a catchy chorus followed by Morelloisms. The best song on the album, ‘Take me higher’, starts with a spanishy, Ennio Morricone Intro, morphing into a Chilli Pepper-esque funk jam about drone warfare. (It was also refreshing to hear a guitar solo by Tom Morello that didn’t require his pedal trickery!). The rest of the album after this track are fairly typical anthems/call-to-arms. This is a genre that gets old quickly…
Prophets of Rage are a sister band to RATM. Much of it is the same, but that’s ok, ya know? The last time all of these members were together was for Audioslave’s last album, Revelations – their weakest effort in my opinion – that attempted to inject funkier elements into their repertoire. Here Morello and co are much funkier than RATM, and when they’re the same, well, no one rocks like they do!
I also can’t stress how great of a rhythm section Commerford/Wilk are and I welcome their return here. Morello is Morello and…that’s also ok! The additions of Chuck D, DJ Lord from Public Enemy and B-Real from Cypress Hill blend seamlessly into their music and are themselves no strangers to heavy, guitar-based rap songs. It all feels natural.
All in all, this album was better than expected. Prophets of Rage are the best thing out of active socialism around: nothing revolutionary, but welcome enough!
Queens of the Stone Age, Villains
When I first listened to this album, some of the songs were really great, most were lacklustre. After 2013’s …Like Clockwork, which I consider to be one of the best rock albums of recent times, Queens had a serious high mountain to climb to prove themselves the kings of modern rock. Thankfully Villains is a grower rather than an instant classic and I now consider this one of their best albums, though not quite reaching the heights of …Like Clockwork.
‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’ opens with an atmosphere similar to the dark and foreboding nature of …Like Clockwork, which changes into a danceable, catchy (albeit long) opener. Lead single ‘The Way You Used To Do’ follows: an OK single, which I imagine would be better live than on the album. ‘Domesticated Animals’ was a song I had initially written off as a fairly average song that I’ve come to appreciate more as time has gone on. It’s a song that reminds me of material from their earlier album, Lullabies to Paralyse. ‘Fortress’, which is easily the best song on the album (and one of their best songs, period), explores the metaphor of feelings being locked up inside a fortress and what to do once the fortress collapses. Quite an effective song.
After the heights of ‘Fortress ‘ comes what I initially considered a run of pretty average songs: ‘Head Like A Haunted House’, ‘Un-Reborn Again’ and ‘Hideaway’. However after multiple listens, the value of these songs came more from the catchy and subtle guitar parts. ‘Un-Reborn Again’ is a very Gary Newman/Iggy Pop-esque track with its heavy synth (it feels like something straight out of the Iggy Pop album, The Idiot). It also has a great moment from mid-way to the end of the song with multiple melodies intersecting and even the use of a sax (which is unfortunately drowned out in the mix). ‘The Evil Has Landed’ is a very Zeppelin-esque with spasmodic changes of style that will have you nodding your head to the shifting grooves. ‘Villains of Circumstance’ closes off the album with introspection and pop.
…Like Clockwork was an incredibly introspective and haunting album looking at the nature of time and death and channeled much of Josh Homme’s life at the time. Villains is a much more upbeat (not necessarily happier) album with quite a variety of cuts and new sounds. If you did write off the album from your initial listen, or even lost interest after hearing ‘The Way You Used To Do’, I would encourage you to listen to the rest of the album as a whole, even if only for ‘Fortress’ alone.
It’s one of the best songs of the year.