Tom Morello's 4th studio album as The Nightwatchman has just been released, and World Wide Rebel Songs (New West Records) is both loud, Son, AND heavy as shit, to paraphrase his earlier "Maximum Firepower" tune. There's still the acoustic guitar beauty, to be sure, but The Freedom Fighter Orchestra is along for this entire rock ride (Carl Restivo, Chris Joyner, Dave Gibbs, Eric Gardner). Throwing down right from the opening track on this new one is "Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine" and it sets the tone for the raging against the machine that is steadfast throughout the entire album.
The song (and album) opens with the customary speech that Tom makes at any live Nightwatchman show ... that "History is not be made by Presidents or Popes, or Kings or Queens, or Generals or CIA Kingpins running dope, or nine men in robes, or billionaires or bankers, it's not made by them" ... It's in the hands of the People. That is the underlying theme of all of his songs, all of his shows, all of him. The "Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine" refers to his new steel string guitar, an instrument that is, "hollow box, steel string, Union made, Let Freedom ring!" Aka Tom's weapon of choice, which he wields with no pretension or bones about it ... he's here to open your eyes, inspire you to think, and then ACT, because justice can never be attained by standing by and doing nothing.
To that end, this album might not appeal to those just wanting a diversion to tap their toes along to in the background ... it absolutely forces you to pay attention to society's ills, and that's not always a comfortable place for people to be. But if you listen and SEE the imagery that Tom creates through each track, you will be taken from L.A. to Mexico to Africa to Iraq to the Great Plains right back to your own front yard.
"The Dogs of Tijuana" is a warning, plain and simple, that "Every dog has its day", that one can only take so much. Set to spanish style acoustic guitar, it manages to be both lovely and threatening at the same time.
Heavy. Metal. "It Begins Tonight" is a raging rouser that features Tom's classic Rage riffs from start to finish ... and serves as another throwing down of the gauntlet, that we're not gonna take it anymore. It's not just talk either ... this guy goddamn means it, and sings passionately about it all. Listen to the words.
A stunning duet between Tom and Ben Harper is perhaps my favorite track on the album, "Save The Hammer For The Man." Good and meaningful things happen when these two brothers in arms get together, and when you hear first their voices, then their super distinct guitar styles weave together in one aching wail ... you are confronted straight on with the power of music. "I will whisper words of freedom, I will swing as hard as I can, Lord knows the time is coming, Save the hammer for the Man". More please. Thank you.
"The 5th Horseman Of The Apocalypse" (gorgeous) and "The Whirlwind" (super lovely in melody and visuals - tied for my favorite) are classic Nightwatchman jams, pretty guitars, heavy imagery, and lyrics that even work "hegemony" into his rhymes. "Branding Iron" is in that same classic Nitewatch camp, but with a clear Springsteen style in both guitar and harmonica that evokes the dusty plains of earlier Boss works.
The Nightwatchman is not afraid to get the people clapping, stomping, and singing along with his catchy choruses. To that end, "Speak And Make Lightning", "Stray Bullets" (with its calling out of the Iraq War STILL going on ... "Why the fuck we're even here, I'll never know ... We're coming for the Captain and then we're going home!"), and especially the title track "World Wide Rebel Songs" will all get you going out there. As Tom sings in it, "Where there's voices raised and barricades, I'm down!" As am I, Tom, as am I.
"Facing Mount Kenya" evokes the land of Tom's father, and its toy piano sounding accompaniment and Leonard Cohen-ish vocals are trippy, haunting, and unlike anything we've heard from him before. Very interesting.
I'll never forget the email I got from Tom when filthy George W. Bush - mortifyingly -got elected the second time. It simply said, "God help us all." That's also the title of the last track on World Wide Rebel Songs, a quiet prayer of a song that ends all the good bombast and riling up of the album with a simple plea for help. Because "We are all that we feared." A stark admission and truism that realizes that we're all in it together, and we can't do anything alone.
We need help, Man. From above, if we even deserve it, but certainly from each other if we ever hope to save the world. Lofty as that sounds, it's what's required of us now, just look around. Listen. HEAR. Sing. MOVE.
Thank goodness we have artists who do actually give a damn about all of this, and ask us to care along with them. As Tom asks in "World Wide Rebel Songs", "Are you gonna stand around or are you gonna be free?"
Available now on ITunes. And good old-fashioned record stores.