Rage Against The Machine's most recognizable part--dreadlocked singer Zack de la Rocha--was also its most annoying. Instead of making like a good front man and lifting the band with his kinetic presence, de la Rocha screeched radical political slogans over the group's underappreciated guitarist and thunder-clap rhythm section. His four albums with Rage proved one thing: it is hard to find a rhyme for Zapatista. When de la Rocha quit the band in 2000, guitarist Tom Morello used the opportunity to marry up. He called former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell--one of the signature voices of grunge--and pitched him on joining Rage's remains. Cornell accepted. They renamed the group Audioslave, and that's the way they became rock's Brady Bunch.
Audioslave's self-titled debut (out Nov. 19) is a full-on rocker that mixes Rage's heavy-metal funk with Cornell's Zeppelin wail and tortured lyrics. It tests the bass on your stereo--and it's catchy too. But the main draw is two distinct platinum parts coming together in mid-career. Cornell, who had a solo act going when he fielded Morello's call, did not want to join a political band. "Before we played music together we had the politics conversation," says Cornell. "I said I would take no specific focus lyrically before I started writing and that the odds were when I was done, none of it was going to be politically motivated." Morello, a self-described "fighter for social justice" who packs a political-science degree from Harvard, accepted. "I've found other outlets for fighting the power," he says.
In early rehearsals, the Rage musicians--Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk--laid down what Cornell calls "riff-based, very heavy, no-brainer 'we can all do this' stuff." Then as a test, Cornell added a melodic four-chord bridge to the song Light My Way. "When nobody freaked out, I knew we were a band." Knowing you're a band and convincing listeners are two different things. It's odd hearing Cornell, one of the few rock singers who can belt it out high and clear, fight through Morello's machine-gun fuzz on Cochise. And when Cornell goes mellow on Hypnotize, you just presume Morello would rather be fret dancing. But after a few spins, the vestigial sounds of Audioslave's previous selves melt away, and what's left is a big, funky record full of wounded-love songs.
When Audioslave hits the road next year, the group will not play Rage or Soundgarden songs. "We're not a country-fair revue," says Morello, chuckling. "We're a new band, a new thing. And by God, we will rawwwwk!" --By Josh Tyrangiel