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Rage Against the Machine

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Heirs to the Clash's Marxist Cash Cow, Rage Against the Machine sold rap metal McRevolution to those junior politicos too sophisticated for Kid Rock but too dense to question whether or not high level employees of Sony Corporation were really the most sincere opponents of global capitalism. The revolution might not be televised, but the revolution, or some facsimile thereof, has certainly been good to these multi-million dollar communards.

My favorite moment of Rage is "Snoop Bounce," their collaboration with Snoop Dogg for the MUSIC FOR OUR MOTHER OCEAN VOLUME 3 compilation. This record finds our tireless enemies of greed, selfishness and investment portfolios providing capable backing while "international money maker" Snoop brags about how much cash he makes for three minutes straight. Irony? Not sanctioned in this cell, comrade!

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MILLIONAIRE

"Throughout its career, Rage took pride in delivering "music with a radical message." Its members dressed exclusively in Clash-inspired, revolutionary-chic costumes. They played gigs at anti-WTO rallies and political conventions. Their website referred to leftist causes ranging from Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier to U.S. sanctions against Iraq and San Francisco's Critical Mass ("a monthly bicycle ride to take back the streets from cars"). Rage, in other words, had all the trappings of even the most political bands that had come before it (including, to a great extent, the Gang of Four). But the music itself wasn't political at all. The band's melodies were brutally simplistic; their lyrics were so preoccupied with the fact that the band had a radical stance that it was often hard to tell exactly what that radical stance was...

"Perhaps it was Rage's major-label sponsorship that kept the band from engaging in political specifics, prevented them from criticizing their own connection to exactly the sort of corporation they agitated against, and hamstrung their ability to develop a genuinely political musical vocabulary. But inchoate politics, backed up by an equally inchoate rage, formed the perfect soundtrack to televised coverage of the WTO protests in Seattle or DNC shadow convention in Philadelphia--gatherings where the activists seemed equally confused about what, exactly, they were agitating against--and Rage sold a fantastic number of records. This, in turn, strengthened their connection to Epic, and further compelled them to make political statements that were either solipsistic (as were the lyrics above), or fashionable enough to dull their edge and impact (as are the litany of causes you'll find on their website).

"In the end, Rage's inability to create an organic fusion of pop and politics was more than a failure--it signaled a real regression. The ironic distance between self and song which Hendrix staked out had disappeared. And instead of working against the music's natural tendency to sell itself, as the Gang of Four did, Rage's drive was a salesman's shtick. The rage, as they said, was relentless, and what it was most relentless about was selling itself as relentless, and relentlessly political.

"But distasteful and exploitative as they may be, Rage isn't entirely at fault for their failure. In the end, pop's political function reveals itself as an ability to turn convention against itself, as part of a larger project intended to underline how listener and musician both are complicit in the act of commodification. It is, essentially, the same project that punk as a whole shouldered in the '70s--a grand purge of the residue, acquired in the course of rock's two decades as a commercial art form, that served to deaden the responses it was originally intended to evoke. By the millennium, it was a project that Rage was unwilling--or unable--to perform. (Alex Abramovich, 'Nevermind: How Political Rock Became a Pose,' NEW REPUBLIC ONLINE 2001")