Senior Writer Gil Kaufman reports: Political hard-rockers Rage Against the Machine stormed back onto U.S. radio over the weekend, launching an assault-style campaign to deliver the first single from their upcoming third album, The Battle of Los Angeles.
"Guerrilla Radio", a hard-driving rap-rock song about power struggles and uprisings, debuted at 20 radio stations beginning Friday afternoon, according to Jim Kerr, alternative-radio editor for trade magazine Radio & Records.
Kerr likened the song's impact to the return of a heavyweight boxing legend. "This is like the whole hip-hop-influenced rock explosion we've been seeing [with Korn and Limp Bizkit] that was pioneered by bands like Rage," Kerr said, adding that the song won't be formally released to radio stations until next week. "For them to come out with this record now, everyone else should just get out of the way."
The stations that played "Guerrilla Radio" over the weekend participated in a promotion in which they temporarily changed their names to "Guerrilla Radio" and played the Rage track repeatedly from Friday afternoon to Sunday night, according to Mike Peer, music director of K-Rock (WXRK-FM) in New York.
The 12-song album is due Nov. 2. Propelled by a driving beat, crunching guitars and singer Zack De La Rocha's aggressive rapped/sung lyrics, the single is built around the shouted chorus "Lights out, guerrilla radio/ Turn that shit up." The second verse appears to make references to several earlier Rage singles with the lines "No shelter if you're looking for shade/ I lick shots at the bullet's charade" — which play on the band's songs "No Shelter" and "Bulls on Parade."
De La Rocha's urgent lyrics also delve into scenarios with ominous implications, including: "As the doors close like a casket/ All truth devoured/ Silent play in the shadow of power/ A spectacle/ Monopolize/ They characterize our choice disguise." The song also refers to a cause the politically outspoken band has long supported: the fight to free convicted cop-killer and death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal. "Way past the days of Harlem/ MCs sound off/ Mumia caught, please free," De La Rocha sings. "Who caught him/ Yo, check the federal file/ All you pen devils know the trial was wild/ Army of pigs trying to silence my style," he continues.
Those lines apparently refer to what supporters say were irregularities in the case against the former journalist; they also seem to address the boycott by New Jersey police of Rage's January 1999 Continental Arena show in support of Abu-Jamal.
K-Rock, one of the nation's most influential alternative-rock stations, played the track a hefty 17 times between Friday and Monday afternoon, Peer said. It elicited a flood of calls that easily outdistanced reaction to other recent high-profile singles from industrial-rockers Nine Inch Nails and former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, he said.
"Now is [Rage's] time," Peer said. "They haven't had a record in three years. 'No Shelter' (RealAudio excerpt) from [the soundtrack to] 'Godzilla' helped hype awareness on this band and how much impact they've had on this format." RealNetworks announced a plan Thursday to make three new Rage tracks available for download next month in their G2 format. "Guerrilla Radio," another album track and an unreleased live cut will be available beginning in early October at www.realguide.com/ratm and at radio-station websites.
Fans who buy the new CD online will have access to another live track, recorded at Woodstock '99 in July. The cut will be available for download only if the new Rage CD is in the listener's CD-ROM drive. The Los Angeles group's sound "definitely evolved a lot more [than it did between] the first record and second record," drummer Brad Wilk said before the band's Woodstock set. "It's branched out in a lot of different ways that will surprise people."
Guitarist Tom Morello said the new effort is "easily our best record."
Since releasing their self-titled debut in 1992, Rage Against the Machine have developed a reputation for explosive live shows and fervent left-wing activism. Their second album, Evil Empire (1996), included the crowd favorite "People of the Sun".
Although "Guerrilla Radio" features a harmonica solo, Wilk said the album generally sticks to the group's traditional guitar/bass/drums style of making music. "We've got four people in the band; it's still pretty organic like that, and we try and make the music different," Wilk explained. "It comes from our souls and not samples."
Rage will play a show on Saturday at the Roseland Ballroom in New
York. Rappers Public Enemy will open. The full track listing for The Battle of Los Angeles, according to MTV News, is: "Testify," "Guerrilla Radio," "Calm Like a Bomb," "Mic Check (Once Hunting, Now Hunted)," "Sleep Now in the Fire," "Born of a Broken Man," "Born as Ghosts," "Maria," "Voice of the Voiceless," "New Millennium Homes," "Ashes in the Fall" and "War Within a Breath."