Release Date: Aug 29, 2011
Record label: New West
Earlier this year, Tom Morello's Nightwatchman released Union Town, an EP inspired by last winter's protests against Scott Walker, Wisconsin's right-wing governor. Walker is now polling lower than genital warts, but Morello's still swinging: "Save the hammer for the Man," he advises on his newest, which includes Rage-style agit-metal and a folk rocker where Iraq soldiers take out their commanders. But Guthrie-esque romanticism bumps up against uncertainty: On "God Help Us All," he sings, "We're wanderin' with no future and no hope," well aware there are harder winters to come.
Tom Morello has always been defined by social consciousness, but when he rasps, “I’ll whisper words of freedom, I’ll swing hard as I can/ Save the hammer for the man,” his conviction sizzles. Joined by Ben Harper’s sweet baritone on “Save The Hammer,” there is a co-mingling of cultures, people coming together in the name of recognition. World Wide Rebel Songs, Morello’s third as The Nightwatchman, sees the acoustic protest singer plugging in, turning up and inviting the combustive Freedom Fighter Orchestra to join him for these dozen fist-pumping calls-to-action.
Tom Morello's doppelganger the Nighwatchman issues World Wide Rebel Songs hot on the heels of his benefit EP Union Town. Rather than play solo as on previous offerings, he fronts a rock quintet. This is marching music. If you don't like your music political, where songs address class, race, and rage that comes from hopelessness, this isn't for you.
RATM man Morello takes a gentler approach on his first solo outing... The politi-folk alter ego of Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, is, as the moniker suggests, an observer and informer of society’s wrongdoings, corruption and bullshit. He sets his almost spoken-word protest songs to harmonica-driven lines and angry acoustic guitars, the progressions of which are rather similar to those of his multi-million selling '90s day job.
For World Wide Rebel Songs, his fourth collection of political tirades and bleak societal musings, Tom Morello strays somewhat from the low-key acoustic sound that’s defined his previous solo releases. Not only does this bring him closer to the bombastic riffing of his Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave days, but it also adds more bite to his political homilies. Each track feels like a belligerent battlecry and a call to arms, and one can imagine Morello snarling and scowling every word from a podium with a microphone in one hand and a burning Molotov cocktail in the other.
Remember when Garth Brooks created his alter ego, Chris Gaines? That is an example of how bad and hilarious a stunt like that can be. When Tom Morello first created The Nightwatchman, it was just an outlet for his political views. Since then, he has created an angry, passionate character, one confused about war, and not shy about sharing his views on the subject.
As part of his “Nightwatchman Speaks” YouTube series, Tom Morello explained that he switched from major label Epic to the smaller, indie label New West because “the artist came first …The way that the record industry has changed, major labels like Epic, and Sony who runs them, their revenue streams today are all about ringtones rather than about content, necessarily, and they’re looking for very polished pop, American Idol-like hit makers”. Ironically, though, Morello has made the most commercial Nightwatchman record to date with World Wide Rebel Songs. Commercial enough for a major label, perhaps not, but the very definitive line between Morello’s folk acoustic alter-ego and his Rage Against the Machine virtuoso has most definitely been crossed here.
Like many a teenage guitarist, I was once enamoured with Tom Morello. Evenings were frequently spent wondering how he made those crazy sounds and attempting to master the bombastic riffs which made Rage Against the Machine such an explosive force throughout the Nineties. Now, eight years on from my obsession and 20 years since RATM’s all-important debut, Morello’s career has slowed down somewhat.