This album is something of a paradox. It’s an album that talks about themes like capitalist exploitation, the Zapatistas, and bourgeois American racism, while at the same time blowing up and going hugely commercial. We’re talking about an album that came out in 1996 (I was in kindergarten) and was certified triple platinum by the year 2000.
Rage Against the Machine represented that parenthetical, always-alluded-to-but-never seldom named brown-skinned devil that white America was so obsessed with circa George Bush the Elder. Which is really confusing, because it’s a band that was more concerned with globalisation and capitalism than it was anything else.
(Yes, I am writing this in Google Docs on an Apple Computer and I do get the irony)
My relationship with this album isn’t especially complicated. In fact, it’s the relationship I imagine most people had with this album. Young, quasi-rebellious (or at least thinking so) looking for something that isn’t puppies and white picket fences. The difference between something like Rage and most of the other bullshit out there that calls itself rebellious (P.O.D., Staind, Evanescense, etc.) is that you can listen to Rage Against the Machine and not have to take a shower afterword to wash off the 13-year-old suburban white girl lyrics. We’re talking about a band here that felt it necessary to put “no samples, keyboards or synthesizers used in the making of this record" in its liner notes.
They also put on a fair lesson in anti-colonialism in “People of the Sun” and threw out the lyrics “Yeah I’m rollin’ down Rodeo wit a shotgun // These people ain’t seen a brown skin man // Since their grandparents bought one” in “Down Rodeo”. Rodeo, of course, refers to the ritzy Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Other album mentions and themes include Fred Hampton (Black Panther Party), Jackie Onassis, Gaza, Tiananmen Square, religion as a tool of propaganda, and the dehumanizing effect of capitalism on workers, among others.
Clearly, Rage Against the Machine didn’t want to be put in the same boat as New Kids On The Block and Marky Mark. “A little to the left…” as Bill Hicks would have said.
Sounds like: Cairo streets, right about now.
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