Album Review

World Wide Rebel Songs

World Wide Rebel Songs

by Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman

6.9 / 10
29th September 2011

Reviewed by Ricardo Kerr

What a renaissance man is Tom Morello! He earned his bones playing guitar with legendary 90s agitators Rage Against the Machine and the supergroup Audioslave. Since then he has kept up his blistering fretwork with Street Sweeper Social Club and indulged his firebrand revolutionary spirit with The Nightwatchman, strumming his guitar and belting out protest songs. In this guise he is far more Woody Guthrie than the hip-hop Jimi Hendrix that he is famous for being. He stands resolutely on the album covers armed with nothing but a beaten up acoustic guitar(festooned with revolutionary slogans, naturally) and a fistful of righteous anger. That is not to say that he has forsaken his trademark electric guitar ferocity entirely, just that it is no longer the deadliest weapon in his arsenal. As Tom Morello would say, Tom Morello’s best weapon is the truth.

‘Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine’ lays the vitriol on thick right from the get go. “History’s not made by Presidents or Popes / or Kings and Queens or Generals / or CIA kingpins running dope” he snarls defiantly. There is also a killer harmonica that will naturally call to mind Bob Dylan given the subject material. While he is clearly revelling in making more energetic songs, the heartfelt acoustic numbers are still his stock in trade and there are plenty of them in here. ‘Branding Iron’, ‘Dogs of Tijuana’, and ‘God Help Us All’ are all folkier than a flannel bindle full of Joan Baez records. ‘Stray Bullets’ is a Pogues-y sing-along all about drinking and guns. It is neatly tied together with a gang vocal chorus that was made to raise your glasses to. On ‘Save the Hammer for the Man’ he enlists fellow revolutionary Ben Harper to add some extra gravity, as well as a bit of star power and a whole lot of additional soul, to the tune. It also features in the bridge a brilliant mashup of their two guitar styles; one is laid back slide the other euphorically elaborate. ‘Union Town’ has an opening riff like a train whistle that signals the approaching end of the record and a classic solo to boot.

If you’ve heard the two previous Nightwatchman albums then none of this is a surprise, he has done very similar to all of this before. That is right up until ‘Facing Mount Kenya’ throws you for a loop. It has a deconstructed funk bassline that accentuates the appropriately African groove. Morello’s vocals here approach the style of trip-hop luminary Tricky (or even Puscifer’s Maynard James Keenan). He has a rich baritone that suits the breathy style of the song and I for one would be keen to hear more of this from him in the future. World Wide Rebel Songs has much more variety than the sparse One Man Revolution but neither does it have the consistency of The Fabled City. We have heard (pretty much) all of this before, he is just phrasing the messages in slightly new ways. You are unlikely to pick this album up and expect the second coming of Rage Against The Machine but you might not be expecting it to be so heavy handed in its social messages. That’s just the kind of guy that Morello is. You have to decide whether you are going to get on the bus or get out of its way.

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