Line-up changes not withstanding, Rage Against the Machine is one band with a clear sense of itself.
I mean, a really clear.
Even a project as straight-forward as a covers album is forcefully and unflichingly molded into the group’s creative and ideological vision.
Renegades is a Rage Against the Machine album firstly, a collection of other artists’ songs secondly.
On hip-hop covers such as Volume X’s “Pistol Grip Pump” and Cypress Hill’s “How I Can Just Kill a Man”, Rage supplanted those track’s original “music” — not hard, since most hip-hop is backed by drum machines and samples — with its own.
Some of the transformations are drastic, as evidenced on Afrika Bambaataa’s “Renegades of Funk,” originally a break dancing song with a really old (read: cheesy) drum machine. On EPMD’s “I’m Housin’,” Rage makes the song more ominous with a slowed-down beat and Tom Morello’s obtuse guitar riffs.
On other tracks, Rage Against the Machine magnify a seemingly small portion of a song, such as the sliding bass on “Pistol Grip Pump,” which turns into an anaconda-sized slithering slap in the ear.
The punk covers come across as more straight-forward. About the only thing that separates Rage’s version of Minor Threat’s blistering “In My Eyes” is a louder mix. Zach de la Rocha makes for a mean punk singer — he shouldn’t just stick to rap.
Rage’s much lauded cover of MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” doesn’t quite come across as revelatory as its press would have anyone believe. It’s a heavier, fatter cover, but the original somehow manages to sound harder than Rage’s version.
It’s the songs that don’t fit into hip-hop or metal where Rage takes the most liberties. Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” transforms from a haunting folk ballad to a nightmare-ish metallic tale. Bob Dylan’s cheeky jubilence on “Maggie’s Farm” becomes a declaration of angry indepedence.
Oddly enough, Rage saw fit to turn Devo’s synthetic “Beautiful World” into one of the band’s quietest songs. In doing so, they turned a self-deprecatingly funny tune into something mopey.
A listener not familiar with any of the original songs on Renegades will most undoubtedly enjoy the album just because Rage Against the Machine are excellent at what they do.
But as a covers album, Renegades is an inventive work. Whatever traces these tracks possessed of their songwriters’ original intentions are wiped clean by Rage’s own.