Coming from the mouth of Zack de la Rocha, even a song as sardonically sly as Devo's "Beautiful World" sounds like a subversive call-to-arms. The smirking irony of Devo's robotic homage to domestic tranquility becomes, in the hands of de la Rocha and his Rage Against the Machine bandmates, a seemingly unassuming ballad, with equal amounts of fury and regret simmering just below the surface. On its hastily recorded and even more quickly assembled covers collection, Renegades, Rage dissects revolutionaries from the '60s (MC5), '70s (the Stooges), '80s (Minor Threat), and '90s (Cypress Hill) with its usual aplomb and thunder. And if this is the group's final record--de la Rocha quit the band not long after Renegades was recorded in August--it is, in a way, a fitting tribute to rock's finest and fiercest political band since the Clash.
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Initially conceived as a series of B-sides to a now-on-hold live album, Renegades' 12 tracks sound both haphazard and insurgent. The rhythm section attacks the songs with punk muscle, and Tom Morello's guitar twists and turns through bouts of hip-hop and metal cleverness, but it's de la Rocha, turning nearly every one of these songs into Rage tunes, who drives the band. He turns up the vitality on Eric B and Rakim's "Microphone Fiend," building an edgy angst from its foundation, and on "Maggie's Farm," he returns Bob Dylan's house rocker to its field-song roots. Rage also transforms Afrika Bambaataa's "Renegades of Funk" into a post-hip-hop apocalypse and finds the appropriate rage in Bruce Springsteen's "The Ghost of Tom Joad." The songs might not collectively amount to the personalized roar of The Battle of Los Angeles, but Rage still relates each of them in its own intense voice.