Rage Against the Machine
I come to bury Rage, not to praise them (or something like that). As possibly the last release of LA's hip-hop protest kings, Renegades has pulled tons of positive ink. This is a signaling of the critics' sharpening pens, and an overall gearing up to trip over themselves to deify the politically active rap rockers in the endless eulogies to come. Phooey. This is pretend outrage, perfectly packaged to provide coverage that makes Jann Wenner feel good about himself. This bloated act of posing hypocrites, owned and distributed by corporate ramrod Sony, is the ultimate wet blanket of the '90s alterna-chart toppers dragging their sorry-ass, politically correct music over the millennial line. The ego-centric rockers without a DJ specialize in draining the fun from funk.
Worse than their usual over-produced studio rants about labor laws, Renegades allows Rage Against the Machine to rain on some of rock's most important musical parades. Zach de la Rocha's self important reading of Devo's "Beautiful World" is a pathetic attempt to drain the ironic tension between the lyrics and music of the original. Stripping the song to just acoustic guitar and singer puts this track on the same level of sincerity as Bill Murray's dramatic take on the Star Wars theme.
Cypress Hill's "How I Could Just Kill A Man" loses all street credibility as rendered by Rage. de la Rocha's take on the lyrics intimate a political importance that undermines the aggressive and desperate nature of the original's street-level view.
Of course, Renegades offers a politically correct sampling of punk, hip-hop and protest songs. "Maggie's Farm" along side of "Microphone Fiend" just screams "take us seriously" (however not at quite the same desperate volume as the Che Guevara shirts). The real nugget to take away, however, is the band's version of the MC5's "Kick Out The Jams." If a band can't make this perfect nugget of a song rock, then, quite simply they don't rock. Case in point. -Rob Hulsman
One of the indelible musical images of the last dozen years is a charity concert that included a very unexpected pairing. Woody Harrelson strapped on an acoustic guitar and the Indigo Girls took to microphones a few steps back. Harrelson was a nightmare, shoveling his agenda against The Man and for Our Poor Abused Mother Earth ("You know we mean it!") without any foothold in tune or lyricism. Most amazing was how gamely the then-ascendant Indigo Girls joined in. They even raised their fists at one point (though the gesture sure wasn't as fresh as it'd been at the 1968 Olympics).
That cheery affiliation for screeds has got to dampen some anticipation for an Indigo Girls compilation album. Neither of the duo completely dominates their talent or range of expression - but Amy Ray often is the provocateur when militant fervor skews a recording session toward cringe-worthy results. So the very fair parsing of Ray-led and (Emily) Saliers-led tracks on this generous collection made for even more trepidation.
Such worrying is for naught. It's not that Ray is put on a leash here. Any acrid taste coming off her moments thumping political superiority gets diluted by accumulated good spirits (Ray herself providing plenty of them). Cushioned by the company of Saliers' tarnished romantic realism in "Ghost" or "Power of Two," the Ray track "Shame On You" is more easily seen as a plea (as opposed to mere finger-wagging) about the benefits of diversity being worthy of some sacrifice. The sequencing of the 16 tracks presses hard to guarantee a flowing tunefulness, even leaving behind one or two genuine hits. Also absent is "Touch Me Fall," the best of the duo's occasional expansive arrangements ... but it's not sufficient cause to protest. -T.E. Lyons
A few months ago, in his cramped basement digs, my pal Jor-El put on a rock'n'roll show. First there was a fab performance by local goth-psych mavens, the Passengers. Then, have mercy, came the headliners, Pineal Ventana.
Crammed into a ten by ten space, five lunatics thrashed on guitars, an arsenal of drums, chunks of metal and themselves. Synths droned and wailed like the shades of victims not yet murdered. As eyes burned in the stench of lighter fluid set aflame on the floor, a man all camp-survivor skin'n'bones gibbered and growled, his face distorted and shiny beneath a mask of rubber cement, once dancing like a narcoleptic robot to a tick-tock trance, other times pounding giant drums, king of all cannibals. A small woman with a tangled mane of raven hair helped him, thin arms banging out the savage rhythms. She was the voice behind the violence: Nemesis reading her rites to the perp clutched in holy claws, a mad little girl in a red-stained dress singing satanic nursery rhymes, a witch yowling curses even as she burns, the Lami crooning lullabyes to her monstrous brood.
The sound was huge, smothering, relentless, cleansing. It was like watching the hordes of Hell storm through somebody's rec room.
It was awesome.
Most of that set came from this disc, the latest from these veterans of the Atlanta underground. Turn it up loud, set your floor on fire, scare the bejeezus out of the neighbors and it's the next best thing to being there. -Bill Widener