"Check this out, you'll like this."
I'm trying to organize a community meeting and my co-worker is holding up a little red listening device with some white ear buds.
"It's a German guy called Jan Delay. You'll like this song, it's kind of funky. It's called 'Rave Against the Machine.'"
I mishear her. "'Rage Against the Machine,' like the band?"
"That's a band?"
I ended up burning her a data disc with Rage's three original albums and their single "No Shelter." The debut gets all the credit as the groundbreaker, and Evil Empire has the biggest hits, but my favorite is The Battle of Los Angeles. The songs are more concise than Rage's, more consistent than Evil Empire's and more diverse than either album's.
Rage had already famously covered Bruce Springsteen, but now they were writing songs that sounded like him ("Born of a Broken Man.") Tom Morello's effects are at their most developed, transforming his guitar into a mouth organ on "Guerilla Radio" and a scratch routine on "Mic Check." Rage's liner notes bore messages like "All sounds made by guitar, bass, drums and vocals," but this was the first time that they really needed to remind us.
Released the same year that Korn and Limp Bizkit had number one records, Rage seemed like they were raging against rap-rock as much as anything else. Not by offering an alternative, but by showing how it was really done, which was in hindsight a much bigger challenge. Zack de la Rocha's fiery bark and off-kilter rhythm reminds me of both Bob Dylan and Chuck D. I remember one review comparing The Battle of Los Angeles to "Led Zeppelin covering It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back," and I can't think of a better comparison.
Here they are in a video filmed by Michael Moore for "Sleep Now in the Fire," in front of the New York Stock Exchange, 11 years before Occupy Wall Street.
This was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award, but lost to Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff," featuring Pauly Shore.
The Battle of Los Angeles closes with the absurdly underrated "War Within a Breath," making Rage one of the only great bands to go out at their peak. Sometimes I want more--it's sad to think that they stopped recording music in the year 2000, on the cusp of eight years of a Bush Administration. But on The Battle of Los Angeles, there's enough Rage to go on for decades in this mortal coil.