Review Summary: Tom Morello's solo debut is a failure on all accounts.
The Nightwatchman, the moniker of Tom Morello’s solo project, is not at all what one might expect from Morello. Instead of effect-laden guitars and standard rock songs, One Man Revolution puts Tom Morello in front of a microphone with just an acoustic guitar. Why? He is a one man revolution, of course. According to Morello, The Nightwatchman is “the black Robin Hood of the 21st century.” That might be true; he is stealing from some of the greatest folk artists and trying to make it his own. He tries to sound like Johnny Cash while singing the protest songs of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Instead, One Man Revolution sounds like a monotonous funeral dirge.
With Audioslave breaking up, Rage Against the Machine reuniting, and all the other news surrounding Morello’s various projects, one must wonder where he gets the time to make a solo album. After hearing the album, it becomes apparent that Morello spent little time on the album, as One Man Revolution is an album of underdeveloped ideas and simple, stripped down acoustic songs meant to inspire the most liberal of liberal Americans, but do radical Americans, no matter which side they are on, need any more inspiration? On One Man Revolution, Morello says only what others have said, making no new points and no profound insight. Doesn’t he have an honors degree in political science from Harvard
? Instead of using his vast political knowledge to raise questions about the government he consistently rebels against, Morello’s lyrics tell pointless metaphor after pointless metaphor. The opening stanza to Let Freedom Ring
gives one of the best examples of this:
There's a man homeless and hungry
There's a wind that's hard and biting
There's a song in need of singing
There's a fuse in need of light
It's no secret the day is coming
And it's a day I hope to see
But if they ask
If they ask you brother
Who told you that
You didn't hear it from me
Here, Morello depicts a scene of hopelessness on the streets of America and speaks of a “day” that is coming, but throughout the song, he never elaborates on what that day might entail. Politics aside, Morello’s lyrics fail to make any points because of a lack of elaboration or explanation for anything he begins.
Musically, this album is just as poor as the lyrics. Most of the album is just Morello and an acoustic guitar playing predictable, repetitive chord progressions. Morello’s guitar work is great throughout the entire album, as he is an accomplished guitarist, and the production is clear with Brendan O’Brien behind the soundboard, but those are the only redeeming qualities of the album. Morello’s singing, his first effort as a lead singer, fails. Flesh Shapes the Day
exemplifies Morello’s attempt to anthemic singing. Morello sings about racism in America, explaining that Jesus and his followers were black, so why should everyone oppress blacks? With a stereotypical blues riff, Morello enters a chorus that makes no sense, where he randomly says “mic check” repeatedly. When he sings the verses, it sounds more like speaking, taking a page out of Zach De La Rocha’s book. He fails to realize, however, that a stripped down acoustic setting calls for better vocal melodies. He sings like this throughout the entire album. The best songs on the album come when Morello brings more musicians in, like on the lead single The Road I Must Travel
. Beginning with an almost patriotic melody, the song builds from palm-muted chords to a full band chorus. Backup vocalists aid Morello in his melodies, and even his more spoken word style in the verse works with the driving drums and bass behind him.
Overall, One Man Revolution sounds like Morello in the studio laying down basic ideas for songs that he could later expand upon and make into formidable, listenable songs. Instead, Morello felt satisfied with his efforts and released the album as is. Unfortunately, he forgot he cannot sing or write coherent lyrics, and mostly in these two aspects, One Man Revolution fails. The album also falls short because of repetition and a lack of energy. Aside from Morello’s guitar playing, there is nothing enjoyable for the listener. It’s time for Rage Against the Machine to come back.