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Album Review

Rage Against The Machine – ‘Renegades’ [Retro Album Review]



In a fashion similar to when Van Halen erupted in the late ‘70s and Guns N’ Roses exploded in the mid-‘80s, Rage Against The Machine stirred a sensation — breathing much-needed excitement and energy into a stagnant early ‘90s rock scene. Birthing the breakout cuts, “Bombtrack” and “Killing in the Name,” the So-Cal combo’s 1992 multi-platinum-selling self-titled debut grabbed the town’s two most notorious truants (metal and hip-hop) by their respective collars and dragged ‘em both back into the classroom — challenging them to get along and to achieve academic excellence.

The socially-conscience, politically-charged lyrics and ferocious, unbridled delivery of frontman Zack de la Rocha forced followers to shut up, sit down and pay attention. The untamed, frenzied guitar work of Tom Morello was unlike anything that had come before (or since). And the rock-ribbed rhythm section of bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk — brutal, to be sure.

Fueled by the skull-crushing tracks, “Bulls on Parade” and “Vietnow,” the band’s sophomore set, Evil Empire, debuted at #1 on the Billboard album chart when it dropped in the spring of ‘96. It sold millions.

Driven by the lead-off single, “Guerrilla Radio,” the group’s Grammy-winning third set, The Battle of Los Angeles, also met with platinum, chart-topping results in 1999. While The Battle of Los Angeles proved to be the final RATM effort (to date) to offer up new original work, they would issue one more studio release. Comprised of eclectic covers from an array of iconic artists, Renegades arrived 20 years ago this week (December 5, 2000) via Epic Records — two mere months following the band’s official breakup.

Although Renegades primarily was a collaborative production mission between RATM and celebrated music vet, Rick Rubin, the first single, “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” was produced by the band and famed studio ace, Brendan O’Brien. The remake of this 1995 Bruce Springsteen tune smacked of the RATM debut and had been kicking around since ‘97. Likewise, the second single, a reboot of the 1983 Afrika Bambaataa classic, “Renegades of Funk” also was smeared ear-to-ear with the band’s undeniable stylistic DNA.

Rage Against The Machine Studio Portraits (1999) by Brian Rasic/Getty Images

And that’s EXACTLY what made Renegades such an important and relevant RATM record — they made each track their own. Among the most compelling (and unexpected) highlights — reimagined renditions of the 1969 MC5 anthem “Kick Out the James,” the 1981 Devo staple “Beautiful World” and the 1968 Rolling Stones standard “Street Fighting Man.”

However, it can be argued that the “bulls”-ish version of Eric B. & Rakim’s “Microphone Fiend” along with Minor Threat’s “In My Eyes” work the hardest to impress judges in an effort to nab the record’s coveted MVP honors.

Truth be told, the only thing more lucrative than a “Farewell Tour” is a “Reunion Tour.” Amid escalating COVID concerns, plans for a highly-anticipated global RATM reunion excursion were scrapped in 2020. But the band reportedly is hopeful that the worldwide trek will commence in 2021. Whether any new music is on the horizon remains to be seen (or heard). Should the Rage Against The Machine catalogue remain abbreviated, Renegades will live on as a powerful closing punctuation point.

Renegades Track Listing:

1. Microphone Fiend (Eric B. & Rakim) – 5:01
2. Pistol Grip Pump (Volume 10) – 3:18
3. Kick Out the Jams (MC5) – 3:11
4. Renegades of Funk (Afrika Bambaataa) – 4:35
5. Beautiful World (Devo) – 2:35
6. I’m Housin (EPMD) – 4:56
7. In My Eyes (Minor Threat) – 2:54
8. How I Could Just Kill a Man (Cypress Hill) – 4:04
9. The Ghost of Tom Joad (Bruce Springsteen) – 5:38
10. Down on the Street (The Stooges) – 3:38
11. Street Fighting Man (Rolling Stones) – 4:42
12. Maggie’s Farm (Bob Dylan) – 6:34

Run Time: 51:14
Release Date: December 5, 2000
Record Label: Epic Records

Christopher Long is an author, show biz analyst, TV / radio contributor, award-winning musician and entertainment personality. Referred to once as “the rock and roll Erma Bombeck,” Long is known for his conversational, common sense writing style and passion for sharing his unique perspectives on pop culture. Raised in Missouri's rugged Ozark Mountains and on Florida's sunny Space Coast, Long currently lives in Cocoa Beach. (