At the end, then, they’ve left us with a record of their beginnings. Instead of the long-promised live album, Rage Against The Machine’s final salvo is a collection of cover versions. The live album will probably come too, with Rage’s paymasters keen as mustard to cash in on their legacy.
For all their sound and fury, Rage didn’t actually manage to upend the profit motive. But for the time being at least, the last stand of Rage Against The Machine – the most fiercely individual, bloody-minded, righteous, unique and inspirational band of the last decade – is on a pile of other peoples’ music.
Now, cover albums are all too often a refuge for the musically bankrupt. They are hateful muso indulgences and their circle-jerking is the very opposite of Rage – a band who came not to lig, or to pay homage to rock’s canon, but rather to bury it under a big angry tide of righteousness and Armageddon-inducing riffs.
But ‘Renegades’ is an exception. This is at once brilliant archaeology; a final rewrite of the Rage manifesto, and very much a Rage Against The Machine album. A quick glance down the tracklisting – Eric B & Rakim, MC5, Cypress Hill, the Stones – reveals the foundation on which Rage stood: hip-hop and punk, anger and beats. As didactic as ever, Rage Against The Machine’s final cultural offensive is a sonic history lesson too. Here are the landmarks of bass, treble and squally guitars that underpinned the RATM sound.
Lastly, though, ‘Renegades’ is not a little poignant. These are the songs that made Rage do what they did. On the eve of RATM’s demobilisation, reminding themselves why just wasn’t enough to stop the infighting.
So ‘Renegades’ offers up some obvious blueprints, and some less obvious ones, that in the hands of Rage cannot fail to rock. The hip-hop tracks appear the most seamless, with Zack De La Rocha snarling passionately through Eric B & Rakim’s classic ‘Microphone Fiend’, a celebration of hip-hop passion. They are also the most furious. Volume 10’s West Coast proto-gangsta tune ‘Pistol Grip Pump’, EPMD’s ‘I’m Housin” and Cypress Hill’s ‘How I Could Just Kill A Man’ explore the limits of Rage’s political envelope, where the line between representing ghetto life (very Rage) and glorifying violence (not Rage) becomes haz
‘Kick Out The Jams’ and ‘Street Fighting Man’ become almost monstrously effective, amped to 11 by Rage’s awesome backline. It’s this firepower that made Rage’s revolution so appealing; the prospect that by bass alone the Evil Empire would surely crumble. People listened because, well, Rage were very loud. Yet the most insidious track on ‘Renegades’ is the quietest: Devo’s ‘Beautiful World’. Zack virtually croons the new wave obscurity, spitting out the basic tenet of political discontent: “It’s a beautiful world/For you – not me”.
Rage rest in peace? Hardly. No justice – no peace. -Motherf**ker.