Tom Morello – ‘The Atlas Underground Fire’ Album Review

Photo Credit: Travis Shinn

Whoever thought it was a good idea to open Tom Morello’s second solo album in the Atlas Underground Fire series with autotuned vocals – and I’m afraid that this was Morello himself – were obviously wrong. I’m not sure if “Harlem Hellfighter” is his take on 100 gecs’ hyper-pop, but a brief check on YouTube comments and other online music forums suggests that his fans certainly aren’t ready for it. 

It was a better idea to get Eddie Vedder and Bruce Springsteen into the same studio, but a bad idea to cover AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” – a song immune to improvement – rather than coming up with something interesting. At least, we finally got a tasty little guitar solo suggesting that the guitarist on this record is in fact the same guy who introduced us to Rage Against the Machine’s furious, relentless, and politically conscious rap-metal back in 1992, and the same man who ended up at an impressive number forty when Rolling Stone ranked their 100 Greatest Guitarist of All Time.

Any casual rock radio station-listener will notice the similarities to Rage Against the Machine’s big breakthrough hit “Killing In the Name” and the third track on the record, “Get the Party Started”, featuring Yorkshire metalcore-group Bring Me the Horizon, as Oliver Sykes sings “I’m so happy I could die right now” in a similar way to how Zach de la Rocha sings “F*ck you, I won’t do what you tell me.” Any casual rock radio station listener will also hear how the chorus is a complete rip-off of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.” It must be on purpose, right?

I love Chris Stapleton’s raspy whiskey voice and I really enjoyed his album Starting Over from last year, so there’s no surprise that I like “The War Inside” the most out of these twelve tracks. Even though Chris sounds a little tired and though Morello constantly tries hard to overrun him with his guitar techniques, it comes closest among these songs to have any kind of a soul. 

Up until the sixth track, “Hold the Line” (hmm, where have I heard that title before?) featuring grandson, everyone can follow in Tom and his buddies’ steps. The songs are nothing special, but Morello still knows how to play his guitar, and the music is loud enough to appeal to his fans. By now, we have forgotten the ridiculous “Harlem Hellfighter” and are looking forward to another side of lazy but steady hard rock. 

Well, you can’t always get what you want. A look at the featured artists on Side A suggests a very different Side B. You know Mike Posner from “I Took a Pill in Ibiza”, you know Damian Marley as Bob’s youngest son, you know Refused if you are Swedish like me, and you probably don’t know Protohype, phem, and Sama’ Abdulhadi at all. If you happen to like both Tom Morello and house, emo-punk, reggae, and Middle Eastern techno, this is your Nirvana. But whenever Morello actually appears, his riffing is extremely repetitive and if this is his take on “thinking outside the box”, I would suggest him not to think this much outside of the box all at once. To put it plainly: the second side is a mess of genres and poorly executed concepts that should be consumed as separate pieces rather than as one cohesive piece of art. If you like some of it, that’s awesome. However, it is hard to believe that someone that has been listening through all of these songs and actually liked them all.

He’s a brave man, Mr. Morello – always has been, always will be. While writing this review, Morello has already released his third Atlas-instalment, called Flood. San Holo, Manchester Orchestra, Alex Lifeson, Kirk Hammett, Ben Harper, and IDLES are featured here. I’m putting him at number one on my official list over the ‘100 Greatest Phone Book Contacts of All Time.’

Written by: Douglas Dahlström

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