I'll never forget when I first started listening to Rage Against the Machine. It was my sophomore year of high school, and I'd just started developing a taste for metal. My guitar playing and music devouring habits had reached that point (like in many-a-teen's life) where heavy, loud distortion was the ONLY necessary ingredient for "good" rock music. Sure I still enjoyed the classics, but I began craving aggressive music more and more. Rage Against the Machine's music was introduced to me by a dude I met on the school bus, who was one grade below me and seemed like a fun kid to talk to due to his outrageous humor. He turned out to be a Rage fan too ... devoted to the band is a much better way of putting it, actually. The band was weeks away from releasing their third studio album, The Battle of Los Angeles, and my new friend had given me copies of both previous albums plus a VHS copy of a live show by the group to get caught up.
Immediately I was mesmerized by the Zepplin riffs and whacked out atonal (creative as all get out) shredding of Tom Morello. He just seemed like the only guitar player to have fleet-fingered lead guitar virtuosity and a punk's enthusiasm for pure white noise. He approximated a DJ's scratching technique so accurately that I had to read the band's album credits carefully to find out who was making those damn crazy sounds. Turns out it was just guitar, bass, and drums behind a vocalist who spit-rapped unadulterated anger. The sound was totally perfected by the first album, and by the time the band's demise came they'd only gotten tighter as a unit. The first (self-titled) album has now been given a deluxitude reissue treatment under the name XX, and for die-hard fans it will be a must-have Christmas gift. For the rest of us we should just revisit the band's songs with a mix of nostalgia and awe.
The XX set includes the album proper, remastered in pristine studio sound, live tracks, pre-album demos, and a couple DVDs packed with live shows & clips & videos galore. It's yet another band from the past's uber-repackaging aimed at hardcore collectors, but causal fans of the band or newcomers will be just fine having a copy of the original release. The heavy rap/rock hybrid and dense political language is just as amazing this time around as it was the first, maybe more so given the US political landscape of the last decade-plus. The bonus material is a lot to sit through all at once as well as having to hear the same songs over and over (even if they are killer jams).
"Bombtrack" and "Know Your Enemy" have gorgeous and ferocious guitar parts courtesy of Morello and he is blazing on this album. From start to finish, Morello's guitar is as much the focus as vocalist De La Rocha (check out the lead parts of "Township Rebellion" and "Freedom"). It shocks me to note this is the band's debut album. They are confident and defiantly radical both with the music and with the topical screeds spewed by Zack de la Rocha.
OK, so one problem I've always had with a band that's all about Marxist, third-world rebellion is that it's existing in a capitalist, democracy and a major label environment on top of that. This reissue set will not be an affordable public service announcement, so how a band preaches what it doesn't practice begins an uncomfortable debate ... that is if you wanna go there and dive into the disconnect between the themes and actions of what's just a rock 'n' roll band. To be fair, the band always knew they were part of the "machine" they raged against, so the argument that they infiltrated the very beasts they wanted to bring down ... *cough* ... still they became fairly big/successful rock musicians off this album so ... do we want to consider this as rebel music or entertainment?
Honestly, when a band is this talented, I don't think it's useful to think too hard on political philosophies and reduce the joy of monster rock ... however, there's a troubling subtext to a band releasing an expensive XX box set, anniversary blahhhhhh whatever set seemingly only designed to make money. OH WELL ... do you know your enemy?