Artist: The Nightwatchman
Album: The Nightwatchman
Comments: I find the timing of this album rather dubious. Perhaps it is just coincidence that Tom Morello’s solo project gets released within days of a Rage Against The Machine reunion at the Coachella festival in California, but I suspect that it is not. Now, whether this is a ploy of the record company, a move masterminded by Morello himself, or just one big happy coincidence, I will never be sure. However, I will say that Morello has always struck me as an activist with a mind for marketing, and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that a big time reunion and a solo album involving the same man both take place in the same week.
But this is a record review, not a conspiracy theory essay. And all money making schemes aside, The Nightwatchman is a throwback to a now defunct style of protest music, which is the everyman folk song.
This kind of guitar based story telling was best used by the flower loving, poorly kept hippies of the 60s. Say what you will about the peace loving, drug addicted children of the greatest generation, but it cannot be ignored that they got shit done, and acoustic folk music was the soundtrack to their peaceful, noisy revolution. 40 years later, those kids all have mortgages and mini-van’s, and the protest music of today wedged between flaccid, shallow hip-hop and flaccid, shallow rock music.
Because of this social situation, The Nightwatchman is good in the context of our times, but not in the context of history. In other (less pretentious) words, this album is a fitting tribute to a time when protest music meant something, and people actually believed things could get done.
People familiar with Morello’s guitar work in Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave might be surprised to hear his songs on The Nightwatchman; the entire CD is acoustic, and features none of the over-the-top, synthetic guitar screams that made him a cultural icon. Instead, The Nightwatchman is a stripped down and intimate record where most tracks only feature Morello’s baritone voice and lonesome guitar chords.
The songs on the record seem to fall into one of three categories; there are the faster paced “angry” tracks, the slower, more poetic “sad” tracks, and there are the anthems. “Angry” tracks, like the steady thump of album opener “California’s Dark” or the violent call-to-arms of “One Man Revolution” preach violent rebellion and civilian upheaval. The “Sad” tracks, like “No One Left” are sung like dirges to fallen friends, slain by an oppressive fascist state. The anthems like “The Road I Must Travel” play like campfire sing-alongs to inspire revolution.
If the subject matter sounds repetitive, that’s because it is. The album is one dimensional in it’s smashing of the state and lamenting the oppression of the proletariat. Morello is over the top at every turn; through The Nightwatchman’s eyes, we are living in the end of times, and there is almost no hope for any of us. This is the biggest problem I have with The Nightwatchman; there is an undertone of hopelessness that lies under every song. It’s almost as if Morello doesn’t think we can win, no matter how many of us rise up.
There is a lot to dislike about this record. I’m sure Ann Coulter’s head would explode if she heard this CD. Still, this is great protest music in a style that few artists dare use today. And, even with it’s one track mind, it’s nice to hear someone speak so boldly about what he believes, with no waffling or compromise. Morello has his vision of right and wrong, and if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. At the end of the day, that is what makes this CD worth a listen; The Nightwatchman actually gives a shit, and its good to hear that someone, somewhere does.
Raiting: 6.5 out of 10
Key Tracks: The Road I Must Travel, Union Song, No One Left
Worth The Money: Yes, for all you godless liberals