24 Ene 2007, 22:51

"Make a move and plead the fifth, 'cause you can't plead the first."

I was cleaning the other day, and out of the usual dash into my CD racks trying to find something energetic and up, I happened upon
Evil Empire. It worked like a charm while hanging my laundry and vacuuming, and during the manual labour, my noggin tried to work out why this record is somewhat maligned.

Okay, so it's Rage; certainly not everyone's cuppa. A lot of drek has been made using the tools they originated, and that association doesn't always reflect positively on them. Yes, it's blunt, it's abrasive and it's coarse. But those are arguments against the band, not this record.

[some time passes between these two paragraphs]

Yeah, this is what I get for not doing the research before I start writing. I can't really find any of the negative writeups I remember online, just some generally positive ones. So, without any examples to dispute, the premise of this post goes a little flat.

That said, I still feel there are points to be made about "Evil Empire". The most successful songs (commercially, popularly) are the barnstormers like "People of the Sun" and "Bulls on Parade", the consensus seeming to be that most of the rest of the album is filler, just drab repeats from the debut. Which could not be further from the truth. In a way, I feel there is much more to be found in "Empire"'s grooves than the debut's, if only because Rage Against the Machine has become such an archetype. For me, it's difficult to see past the jukebox ubiquity of "Bullet in the Head" and "Killing in the Name of". In fact, could be that's exactly where most critics went wrong with "Empire"; that they had problems in hearing the nuances and refinements Rage added to their template second time around.

RATM is a political band, and in many people's eyes, that's all they are. But "Evil Empire" isn't a political record, not any more than Nebraska or The Ghost of Tom Joad, or than Document. It's about America, and I mean America, not just the United States. It's about people, it's about families, it's about injustice, it's about the last two hundred years. Of course, there is a lot of scattershot political rhetoric, but that's just de la Rocha's style. Name-dropping as a way of creating colour is central to rap, and here the rapper is slapping up a stark collage of images from our near and distant past - the self-immolating monk on the cover of RATM is a fitting analogue.

But the soul of "Empire" isn't in the familiar hectoring of de la Rochas raps, it's in tracks number 4 and 5, and to a lesser degree, track 6;
Revolver and Snakecharmer, with Tire Me as a bridge between these two iconoclasts and the more familiar Rage schematic.
I don't really have the chops to distill this down the way I want to, but still: what I draw from these songs are chilling portraits of family, of fathers and sons, and of the oppression which can be just as brutal within the walls of a home as from a bent government. The song structures are different from the rest, eschewing the familiar raps for slow-burning poetry, while the music is probably the most expressionistic put to tape by the band, perfectly following the vocal's lead.

The picture of the four members in the back of the CD booklet is a clue as to what "Empire" is all about, musically: Four people in a room, playing. Still, the sonics of the thing are so transformational it doesn't take much to lose yourself in the power of the grooves, the impressionistic guitar squeaks, and that voice... to find yourself smack dab in the middle of the aforementioned collage. I think that's what most impressive about "Evil Empire", in the end; the fact that it's both a sprawling artistic work and a no-nonsense document of a working band.


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