I tried for a while to sit down and write a simple review-cum-retrospective on Rage Against the Machine’s seminal self-titled debut album, which has just been re-released for its twentieth anniversary. But for at least two listens through the album, it proved impossible, as I transformed into a one-man mime band – destroying my air drumkit, pulling my best ‘guitar solo’ faces, and screaming along with the political vitriol of Zack de la Rocha. While the album might be older than many of Impact’s readers, it’s still every single bit as exciting and essential as it was all those years ago.
Chances are that, for the uninitiated, knowledge of RATM may not stretch further than the denial of the Christmas number one to The X Factor’s Matt Cardle in 2009. While that was an unquestionably brilliant campaign, this album is so much more than ‘Killing in the Name’. From the moment that the opening bassline of ‘Bombtrack’ comes through the speakers, to the cacophony of the band destroying the studio during the conclusion of ‘Freedom’, it’s nothing short of a 52 minute-long workout. De la Rocha’s primal shouts of injustice and dissidence are backed by Tom Morello – arguably the most innovative guitarist of the 1990s – and the enviable rhythm section of Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk, who blend the brutal sounds of heavy metal with the groove of funk and jazz-influenced percussion and bass.
In case you haven’t gathered, Rage Against the Machine is a very very good album. But is it worth buying the XX version? In short, probably not. The main features of the anniversary edition are remastered versions of the album’s original tracks, and a CD of live and demo versions. Taking into consideration that the original album is renowned to this day for its high production values and clear sound, the former seems somewhat meaningless. In any case, who outside of the FLAC-buying audiophile community can honestly say that they have ever been able to tell the difference between the original version of an album and its remaster?
As for the extra CD, it really is one for the die-hard fans only. The early live recordings are of pretty dubious quality, and are prefaced by de la Rocha spouting almost two minutes of political rhetoric about Native American activism and encouraging an early ‘90s audience to petition President Clinton, which, let’s face it, 90% of listeners will skip past. The demos are essentially poorly-mixed versions of the songs which fans have come to know and love, and all feature an incredibly irritating delay effect on de la Rocha’s vocals, which was thankfully binned for the final release. There are, admittedly, five previously-unreleased tracks on offer here; but, put bluntly, these stayed as demos for a reason, and you’ll soon find yourself skipping back to the classic ten tracks for another taste of what made this one of the best rock albums of the ‘90s.
The verdict, then – if you don’t already own the original album, get hold of it as soon as possible. If you do already own it, then use the twentieth anniversary of its release as an excuse to blast it as loud as possible and shout yourself hoarse rather than buy this collection of unnecessary fluff.
All together now then – ‘FREEDOM! YEAAAAAHHHH RIIIIIIGHHHTTTTT!’
Will is listening to Franky Rizardo and Roul & Doors – ‘Elements’