I feel so conflicted when thinking about the music Tom Morello has put into the world. There’s a lot I love. And then there’s so much that’s just fucking ghastly. Nasty-terrible. So bad. The whole Nightwatchman solo persona is borderline unforgivable I reckon. Just awful. Terrible singer/songwriter stuff that offers nothing to the world and is so very try-hard. And everyone telling me how great The Ghost of Tom Joad sounded when Springsteen took Morello on tour…um, nup. Wrong. Incorrect. Dumb answer. It sounded stupid.
But – I do love Rage Against The Machine. And I do love the way he managed what not many guitarists can actually claim: he pretty much invented a whole new language for the instrument, and/or a context to put that. I’ve been revisiting the Rage stuff just lately and finding it aging very well. I dug most of Audioslave’s offerings too and basically whenever he would rev that thing up (see also: Prophets of Rage) I’m happy. But I’m just not too interested in Morello as the solo voice – Nightwatchman or under his actual own name. He hasn’t made a lot of music as purely Tom Morello but I do rather like this new wee EP. Not all of it because it’s trying quite hard to do the “show all sides” thing. But when the focus is on his variant of shredding it’s hard to argue with what he does and the way he goes about it.
Across five songs and for 18 minutes it’s mostly about paying tribute. The opener is an instrumental rendition of Hendrix’s Voodoo Child. You might think that’s redundant – and maybe it is – but there’s a crunching force to the way he puts it down. And basically if it sends any of his audience to the source I’m happy. Job done. It’s a good way to open the EP too. Shows he’s very much back in the business of making big guitar noise.
Next up is Interstate 80 which features some very RATM-styled playing which is great but sadly also features some very Nightwatchman-styled singing which instantly cancels it out. This feels very hackneyed and dated too. The other reason to care about this song at all is that it’s a duel/duet with Slash. And so the two guitarists – both defining of specific eras in the modern age – get to tear at the strings with and against each other. And those passages are cool. It’s just a shame the song that houses that showcase-shredding is pretty embarrassing.
Secretariat is a one-minute instrumental subtitle “For EVH” – a tribute to the greatest guitarist of the 1980s. And performed very much in the style of signature Eddie pieces like Cathedral and 316. It’s not quite holding a candle of course but that is the very intention – so since it’s really just a tribute piece rather than any ‘song’ as such – it gets a pass mark.
Back to RATM feels for Suburban Guerilla – which to me is the absolute standout here. The reminder of all that Morello does so well when wielding his axe. Could be called Gorilla for the fearsome size and shape and stomp of the song. Just a kick-arse piece of face-melting guitar spatter.
The closer, Cato Stedman & Neptune Frost, shows hints of Hendrix again and Vai – particularly Steve Vai – and is in the vein of slow ‘blues’ pieces that the 90s shredders would add to their albums to further pledge their musical credentials. It’s pretty good if not great. I’m most pleased though that this is just an EP. I feel like a full album would fall lopsided towards his earlier solo outings.
Get the band back together Tom. You know you want to. It’s the right thing to do.
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