This album is not good. In point of fact, it is terrible. If you are looking for trainwreck bad—latter-day Limp Bizkit bad, “Magnets, how do they work” bad—you will find it radiating throughout Prophets Of Rage’s debut record. Assembled last year for the Republican National Convention, the band pairs Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave’s core musical trio with vocalists Chuck D of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill. (Cypress’ DJ Lord also contributes, in that invisible manner of so many DJs appended to rap-rock groups.) Last year’s debut EP featured reworked versions of the crew’s older collective hits, rendering all of those mighty tracks thoroughly generic in their new context, wah-wahs pointlessly phasing through “Killing In The Name.”
Now comes the debut full-length, Prophets’ first collection of 12 original compositions that manage to be unflattering to literally everybody involved: Chuck, B-Real, Tom Morello, the rhythm section, producer Brendan O’Brien, you, me, the American discourse—everyone. The record is at its most gobsmackingly bad in its most exploratory moments, like the chooglin’, sub-Black Keys riff rock of “Legalize Me,” which features the first—but not the last—instance of B-Real singing through an ill-advised megaphone effect. Later, “Take Me Higher” pits lyrics about drone warfare against Red Hot Chili Peppers-style funk, which goes exactly as well as that sounds. Much of the rest aims not for the serviceable modern rock of Audioslave or the golden-era polemical rap of Public Enemy, but, as the band’s name would suggest, the agitprop heights of Rage Against The Machine, full of thundercock riffs and righteous sloganeering.
Unfortunately, Chuck D’s booming voice, here largely reduced to shouting things like “Check America’s pulse / Heard a death tone,” sounded better as a foil for the Bomb Squad’s dense production, rather than as yet another bludgeoning instrument in the mix. Brief moments of instrumental inspiration—like the feedback play of Morello’s guitars on “Who Owns Who” or the rhythm section on “Hands Up”—show how far that band has fallen from its Battle Of Los Angeles peak, here operating almost exclusively in the mold of its 1992 debut. In some ways, the failure of Prophets Of Rage raises interesting questions about the function and virtues of political music in an era when people don’t need slogans or awareness delivered via music, having already been immersed in it constantly, organically online. But in other, more accurate ways, it doesn’t raise any questions at all. It is an album of obvious statements set to equally thudding music, liable to move and inspire no one.