Tom Morello: The Atlas Underground Flood

This Atlas Doesn’t Go To Enough Places but It Does Make the Ones It Visits Enjoyable…

The Atlas Underground Flood Cover
Credit: Screenshot from YouTube video

You have to admire Tom Morello. Well, it’s not a law or anything, but since Rage Against the Machine ended, this singular guitarist has not stunted himself in musical exploration.

There’s the Classic Rock and Indie meld of Audioslave, his fabulous rap collaboration with Boots Riley, Street Sweeper Social Club and Rap Rock conflagration Prophets of Rage. That just scratches the surface.

Tom Morello has never been what you expect him to be and that’s why his Atlas Underground project, spanning three albums, has collaboration, sort of Dubstep and sort of big room Dance sounds, all in a chart friendly sort of feel.

That use of ‘sort of’ is necessary, this isn’t usual music.

Of this Atlas album and Fire before it, he told NME; ‘Fire and Flood are my London Calling. Admiring The Clash at their apex moment, I sought to make a double album where artistic intent supersedes genre.’

And that’s the issue. Genre. It’s just that sometimes this music doesn’t seem as visceral, exciting and challenging as either the Clash or his former band, RATM.

That’s not to say this isn’t worth your time, it undoubtedly is, it’s just that it could be so much better.

There’s a giddy up beat to greeting us with ‘A Radical On The Family’, but it quickly becomes just one of those guitar instrumental feels, where the six strings take the melody and when the Barns Courtney enhanced ‘Human’ follows with that chart vocoder vocal, there’s a conforming concern.

But then the bouncy beat and languid Chiptotle Joe rap whilst a Jack White rough Blues guitar plays around makes ‘Hard Times’ a winner.

‘I Have Seen The Way’ has a Glam band backing and unbridled guitar jousting, well, it does feature Alex Lifeson and Kirk Hammett.

It isn’t always consistent and this may because it attempts to be up to date, so ‘You’ll Get Yours’ is a downbeat Indie offer, ‘The Maze’ has such a singsong chorus it could be a Take That tune and Ben Harper brings a thick Blues feel to a growing in size ‘Raising Hell’.

Some of these matchups work well—IDLES give ‘The Bachelor’ a wary quality, something which could explode at any time and ‘Ride At Dawn’ has bigger metallic riffing which sadly leads into some arena Dance ‘hands in the air’ usualness.

Then My Morning Jacket’s Jim Jones takes an Outlaw Country through Americana jourmey for ‘Parallels’ and makes a good go of it, Tom’s quietly effective solo’s a treat too.

And we finish with a gorgeously picked guitar fest with Rodrigo Y Gabriela, straight with no frills.

This misfires, that much is clear, but the successes are even clearer.

And Tom Morello should should be celebrated for ploughing his own furrow; it’s when he edges closer to the charts that things don’t work so well.

The charts. That’s an issue. It isn’t craven, but that vocodered vocal, that lack of real sharpness in the dancy, dubsteppy backing, it’s the Sound That’s Around.

It seems modulated and some would say moderated to fit with streaming.

That’s not denigration at all, The Atlas Underground Flood has enough to keep us listening, has enough twists and turns to keep the interest, has interesting guests to put a smile on your face.

It’s just that sometimes to create a mass appeal it isn’t as sharp as I might want.

Someone else might revel in this big club feel. Some may say this works as a big appeal.

Tom Morello says, to Louder; ‘I aimed to forge a central curated vision to tie together a sonically fearless, wild, and wide-ranging musical ambition with a tremendous cast of collaborators.’

I’m just not sure it’s always wild and ambitious enough.

That’s hard to do without seeming like a blueprint, The Atlas Underground Flood doesn’t sound like that, it has enough surprising moments to make this special.

That’s real credit to Tom Morello, I just wish there were more of this surprising moments.

Sadly, not an Atlas to the new world

Written by Steve Swift

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