Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Top 25 Albums #24

Sorry there has been so much time between #25 and #24, but putting up samples is quite involved for me. I don't know how the hardcore music bloggers do it. I've given up (temporarily) on posting the mp3s, so this will be mp3-less.

Anyway, #24 on my list of "Top 25 Albums," which is not a "best of" list, but a list of my favorite records, based on how influential they were to me at the time I first heard them, is an eponymous album from the early 1990s.

On my 26th birthday, in 1993, we had a little party at our apartment in Saugus, CA, just north of Los Angeles.

My friend Dan Harrington, with whom I had worked in the entertainment industry (most notably on a show for Fox called "Down the Shore"), arrived with his girlfriend and handed me a small gift. It was a CD-shaped gift, so it was obviously a CD. I opened it and this is what I saw:

Wow. I was familiar with the photograph, that of Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk who self-immolated in a busy Saigon intersection on June 16, 1963 in protest of the Catholic Diem regime's refusal, among other things, to grant Buddhists the same rights as Catholics. The photographer, Malcolm W. Browne, is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer and this shot, although not a protest of the war, was wedded to the Vietnam era. You can read Browne's report of the incident here.

Anyway, as memory serves me, I must have had a blank look on my face, as Dan asked, "You haven't heard of these guys?" Rage Against the Machine. Great Name, I thought. Great Cover. I hadn't heard of them. How I had managed to live in L.A. and not have heard of them is beyond me. The album had been released in November of the preceding year.

I cracked the case and put the disc in. I was blown away. From the opening notes, a ferocious bass intro to the song "Bombtrack," by Tim Commerford, I was hooked. Lacking the mp3 link, you can get the feel for the song from the video:

Rage, or RATM, were pioneers of the metal-rap fusion genre, which is so hard to pigeonhole to begin with. The thrash band Anthrax really were the first pioneers of melding the two genres together, in their collaboration with rap legends Public Enemy. But Rage were commercially viable, without the metal stigma that held Anthrax back from widespread commercial success.

RATM was the first commercial album that fused the genres together for an entire record, and they added a hard-edged political commentary. The band name itself has been attributed to Karl Marx. And the song titles reflect an anger that not only blisters with words, but with the chords and riffs of Tom Morello's guitar-playing.
Just check out the ferocity of "Bullet in the Head":

From start to finish, the album is relentless in its energy and anger. Rolling Stone listed it as #368 on its top 500 greatest albums ever. So how does it rank #24 on my list? Just in its placement within my life, I guess.

I had given up on Metal in the late '80s and been seduced by the early 90's grunge scene, listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. But this new band had a harder edge that spoke to my metal roots. I liked the politics as well.

Rage broke up in 2000, in what I can best interpret as an Axl Rose-like split. Zack De la Rocha, the outspoken lead singer has gone off and done his own thing, very little of which has been released for public consumption. The rest of the band, including Tom Morello, a phenomenal guitarist, joined up with Chris Cornell and created a little band known as Audioslave.

You can buy the album here.

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