Rage Against the Machine broke up at a particularly ill-timed moment in history. They did a lot of raging in the Nineties, but their whole career existed in that brief gap between the Cold War and the War on Terror. Needless to say, there was a lot of injustice in the 1990s, but the stakes seemed a little low, especially in hindsight. In August of 2000 the band did a protest gig at the Democratic National Convention, and they broke up just two months later – weeks before the election that ultimately brought George W. Bush to power.
The world needed Rage worse than ever, and Audioslave didn’t come close to getting the job done. Chris Cornell is a great singer, but watching him try to tackle “Bulls on Parade” was painful. There’s only one Zack de la Rocha, and he was silent all through the build-up to the war in Iraq. His long-rumored solo album never surfaced.
After months of rumors, word of a Rage Against the Machine reunion finally came out in early 2007 when they were booked to headline Coachella. “Is it a coincidence that in the seven years that Rage Against the Machine has been away that the country has slid into right-wing purgatory?” guitarist Tom Morello asked. “I think not . . . It occurred to all of us that the times were right to see if we can knock the Bush administration out in one fell swoop, and we hope to do that job well.” (Watch a video of their opening song, “Testify,” from Coachella.)
Midway through the reunion set Zack let off seven years of pent-up anger. “If the same laws were applied to U.S. Presidents as were applied to the Nazis after World War II, every single one of them, every last rich white one of them from Truman on, would’ve been hung to death and shot,” he said. “And this current administration is no exception . . . This whole rotten system has become so vicious and cruel that in order to sustain itself it needs to destroy entire countries and profit from their reconstruction in order to survive.”
Rage hit the highly lucrative festival circuit over the next few years, but not a single new song ever came out. The shows were amazing, but they sort of became a Nineties Steve Miller Band, playing the old classics over and over and over. By 2011 it was apparent de la Rocha had grown tired of the repetition and he only agreed to a single show. They did nothing last year.
“If it were up to me, I would’ve made two records a year,” Morello told Rolling Stone in December. “As it is, we have just three records of original material over 20 years . . . There’s no plans, no current direction of anything. It was my great hope that we’d celebrate the 20th anniversary with a five-continent world tour.” It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.