Zack De La Rocha Comes Out Of Hiding

Al Shipley | September 23, 2008 12:00 pm

Many people find it hard to tell the great from the godawful when it comes to 21st-century mainstream rock. To help figure out which is which, here’s “Corporate Rock Still Sells,” where Al Shipley examines what’s good, bad, and ugly in the world of rock and roll. This time around, he looks at new singles from Rage Against The Machine’s frontman, a ’90s one-hit wonder, and Metallica:

He may not be quite up there in the annals of procrastination legend with Axl Rose or Dr. Dre, but one of rock’s biggest holdouts in recent memory, Rage Against The Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha, put a product on retail shelves this summer after a long wait. In the seven years between his band’s breakup and its recent reunion, de la Rocha reportedly worked on solo material with everyone from Trent Reznor to ?uestlove to DJ Shadow without ever releasing an album, or even anything other than a stray compilation track. So it’s a little unexpected that now, after Rage has been back together and touring for a year, is when de la Rocha decides to release new music with a new band.

One Day As A Lion, de la Rocha’s project with ex-Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore, released a self-titled EP over the summer, and the single “Wild International” has spent the last 8 weeks in the lower reaches of the Modern Rock chart, peaking at No. 20. When I first heard the song and thought it was a surprise new Rage single, I was impressed, and when I realized it wasn’t, I was even more impressed. The keyboards de la Rocha plays on the song may not be as inventively skronky as Tom Morello’s guitar playing, but they’re pretty damn close. de la Rocha seems to be focusing less on the rapping element of his vocals, which I appreciate, having never been a fan of the guy’s rhymes.

Now that de la Rocha’s ripped off the Band-Aid–and announced that there’s a One Day full-length on the way–the question remains whether or not he’ll continue to work on solo and side projects, and allow the Rage reunion to function as only a touring unit. Rage slowly grew into the fanbase that still clamors for them today, if their reception on the festival circuit last year was any indication, and they currently occupy a place in the alt-rock firmament. Singles like “Killing In The Name” and “Down Rodeo,” which never appeared on the Modern Rock chart when they were initially released, till get significant airplay today. And though their rap-metal style may sound somewhat dated to younger rock fans, one thing is clear: In a year that acts like the Flobots, Rise Against, and M.I.A. are scoring Modern Rock hits left and right, nothing is too stridently leftist and vaguely “revolutionary” for alternative radio.

Speaking of seven-year sabbaticals, remember the Toadies? Fourteen years ago, “Possum Kingdom” made them, in my opinion, one of the finest one-hit wonders of ’90s rock radio. But their quite good debut Rubberneck failed to yield any other big hits, and they took seven years to follow up that album in 2001, and another seven to deliver their third, No Deliverance. Though “Possum Kingdom” peaked at No. 4 on the Modern Rock chart and No. 9 on Mainstream Rock, the three Toadies singles that have charted since then have all done better on the Mainstream side. That includes the title track of their new album, which debuts at No. 39 this week. The nervous, punky sound of Rubberneck always led me to categorize the Texas band as more of an alt-rock act, but the southern-rock swing on “No Deliverance” leads me to believe differently:

There’s perhaps no better way to illustrate the increasingly blurred line between alternative and active rock radio playlists than the career of Metallica. The band have been mainstays on the Mainstream Rock chart ever since 1991’s self-titled “black album” made them household names. But back then, “metal” was pretty much a dirty word on the Modern Rock chart, which was still populated by dad-rock acts like Sting and Elvis Costello and just getting its first taste of grungy hard rock. Metallica’s first minor dent on the Modern Rock chart didn’t come until 1996’s “Until It Sleeps,” which coincided with the band outraging the headbanging faithful and earning derision from the alt-rock world by shearing their hockey hair and headlining Lollapalooza. “Sleeps” only peaked at No. 27, and none of the other Load or ReLoad singles charted on Modern Rock.

But alternative radio continued to skew more metal-friendly while Metallica released no new albums, but continued to flood the market with various stopgap projects. Those one-offs–Garage Inc., S&M, and the Mission: Impossible II soundtrack–helped the band chip away at alt-rock resistance, as did 2003’s infamous shit sandwich St. Anger. Still, the band never cracked the Modern Rock top 10 until this month, with Death Magnetic‘s also totally awful lead single “The Day That Never Comes” currently sitting at No. 7. The song reached No. 1 in its third week on the Mainstream chart, but I’ll be very curiously watching how far it climbs on the other chart. And changing whatever station plays the song while I’m tuned in.

Speaking of flipping radio dials, right before Labor Day, Idolator’s Chris Molanphy declared Modern Rock “the most boring chart of the summer” thanks to its week-to-week stasis and overall lack of new blood. I more or less predicted this stasis back in May. But I have to admit, I’m a little impressed by how three of the four bands I singled out back then have absolutely dominated the chart: Weezer and Coldplay both topped the chart, while the Offspring scored two Top Five hits. And just as I suspected, Nine Inch Nails was the underperformer of the bunch, peaking at No. 6 and dropping off the chart completely in the same time frame that “Pork & Beans” clung to the top 10. It’s possible that “Discipline” simply didn’t connect with listeners in the same way that previous NIN hits did, but the fact that it was the band’s first single since divorcing from Interscope does make me wonder how well it might have done with major-label promotional muscle behind it.