As if we didn’t already realize this, the purpose of the existence of Tom Morello’s solo work is that, well, he hates the government. It has been a dead horse that The Nightwatchman has been beating since his Rage Against the Machine days; perfect for those fifteen year old anarchists that are itching to make some sort of a political statement, even if they have no idea what the fuck they are talking about. Yet the scary thing about Tom Morello is that all of his ramblings about the evils of politics and the current state of the nation are sincere, and haven’t changed since the early 1990s. For all of the noise that Morello has made however, the fact that any further inspiration has not been implemented in his music has made the ex-Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitarist difficult to take seriously on his solo material, no matter how genuine the subject matter is. So by World Wide Rebel Songs, Tom Morello has become absolutely irksome.
For all of this talk about the content of The Nightwatchman’s solo records however, it hasn’t been the inspiration that has hindered the success of One Man Revolution and The Fabled City, but rather the horrific execution. Despite the fact that Morello is undeniably a fantastic guitarist, any sort of ability to write and arrange tracks on each of those releases remains to be seen. Worse yet, is The Nightwatchman’s abysmal Johnny Cash impression on vocals, which have not only plagued his records, but have also provided some seriously cringe-worthy moments while spouting out his half-baked lyrics. With World Wide Rebel Songs however, Tom Morello has shown some improvement. That is, in the most nominal sense of the word.
While much of One Man Revolution and The Fabled City was stripped down and featuring only Morello on his acoustic guitar, World Wide Rebel Songs tenders to a much wider range of instrumentation and vocals, bringing on backing singers, guest vocalists, and your standard rock band spread. The most notable of these instances is the appearance of Ben Harper on “Save the Hammer for the Man,” who takes on a great deal of the vocal duties and promotes the track as a clear highlight on the record. In the same vein is that of the title track, which utilizes a backing choir in its refrain, and the result is a rather infectious piece. As songs such as “Save the Hammer for the Man” and “World Wide Rebel Songs” have enough to distract the listener from Morello’s dire baritone vocals and lyrics, the same cannot be said about a great portion of the record. Despite the terrific guitar work on “It Begins Tonight,” the piece is propelled straight for the dump the second Morello beings shouting his cheese-ball lines: “I am red I am black I am city born, mama got scared went far from home. I am a faceless nameless right or wrong and I feel this hopeless in my song. It begins tonight.” As far as the remainder of the album goes it is easy to get bogged down by the lyricism, whether Morello is pleading that “God help us all” or that “You made the mess, so you’re going to clean it.” Even worse, is when these words are paired with haphazard melodies such as in “Facing Mount Kenya.” An attempt to be haunting with eerie vocals and the utilization of a xylophone, “Facing Mount Kenya” proves to be the record’s most irritating and laughably awful piece that is indicative of not only World Wide Rebel Songs, but The Nightwatchman’s material as a whole.
Tom Morello’s introduction of more sound on World Wide Rebel Songs overall bodes better for him than any of his previous records, but in actually there is really not enough here to deflect the focus away from his vacant potential as a solo artist. The Nightwatchman of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave fame should get the memo about how badly his reputation has been soiled by these albums, and realize that his role as a musician should be restricted to being a lead guitarist. After all, wouldn’t any contemporary group be lucky to have him on as a guitarist? We get it Tom Morello: you hate politics. Find something else to write about, and find a way to make it worth listening to.
2. The Dogs of Tijuana
3. It Begins Tonight
4. Save the Hammer for the Man (feat. Ben Harper)
5. The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse
6. Speak and Make Lightning
7. Facing Mount Kenya
8. The Whirlwind
9. Stray Bullets
10. Branding Iron
11. World Wide Rebel Songs
12. God Help Us All
13. Union Town
Tom Morello, guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave and Street Sweeper Social Club, is less known for his folk music, which he plays under the alias "The Nightwatchman" as well as Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman which he used on his second album The Fabled City. He has explained, "The Nightwatchman is my political folk alter ego. I've been writing these songs and playing them at open mic nights with friends for some time. This is the first time I've toured with it. When I play open mic nights, it's announced as The Nightwatchman. ... read more