He could have been content stepping out of retirement in sunny California a couple of weeks ago to play Rage Against The Machine‘s first gig in seven years. He could have even been satisfied doing this safe in the knowledge that since Rage split, his non profit organisation and internet radio station Axis of Justice had racked up over 50 monthly broadcasts of rebel jams and political dissidence.
It would therefore have been a feat of dizzying heights if Tom Morello had also stepped onto Coachella’s stage having spent the last five years touring the world as part of the multi platinum selling super group Audioslave on top of his other activities. Only that’s still not it. There is yet another string to Mr Morello’s bow of musical and political activism, in the shape of a humble, acoustic solo project, plucked out softly on a six string; providing a soundtrack all the way to the picket line.
Uniting a love of Bruce Springsteen and Woodie Guthrie, his efforts are as ever nothing short of exemplary. This was never intended as an album to rival the stunning musicality of The Boss’ finest hour, or as a tribute to the infectious folk gesturing of early Dylan. One Man Revolution is exactly what all of Tom’s musical expressions have been; a mere vehicle to convey his contempt for all that is unjust in current social order.
Simple and minimalist, without so much as a scorching solo in sight, the lyrics are as, if not more important than the chords as on the sublime Battle Hymns; “Can you explain away the sleight of hand, and the criminality. Of spending souls for oil, well in the mirror I can see.” The title track rings out with a haunting piano lead in, followed by Morello’s deep throated cry for change, while Garden of Gethsemane recounts the sorrowful story of Jesus as a black man.
Morello’s tireless campaigning for worker’s rights (he started on behalf of the cafeteria staff at his University) and social justice make their mark on Union Song and Maximum Firepower, where he spits his out his intentions within seconds; “This one’s for the shoeshine boy and the farmer in debt, each string is barbed wire, each chord a threat.”
The anti war sentiment does run strong, but the true strength of this opus lies more in the hope entwined anthems such as The Road I Must Travel and the beautiful melodies of Until The End, which progress beyond anger and frustration and look forward to brighter future, built through struggle, solidarity and perseverance.
If this album were a written manifesto it would’ve been nailed to a door in Wittenburg in 1517. If it were a speech, it would be screaming “I have a dream!” from the steps of the Lincoln memorial in August of ’63. In a world flooded by media hype and youthful cynicism One Man Revolution is a demand for hope, justice and resistance.
It might not employ the abrasive distortion of Rage Against the Machine, at it won’t sell anywhere near the 30 million records he’s clocked up in previous outfits; but rest assured that The Nightwatchman is a Molotov cocktail as volatile as any he’s thrown at the barricade of injustice in the past 15 years.