Tom Morello is a lot of things: legendary guitarist, active political commentator, underrated songwriter, gregarious gear head. But even he would be the first to admit that he’s not much of a singer. When you’re as famous as Morello is, however, you can just call up anyone you want to play and sing on your album for you.
This is the ethos that Morello has brought to his previous two LPs from The Atlas Underground project. Chris Stapleton, Mike Posner, and Damien Marley would never appear on an album together if it wasn’t for Morello’s broad and eclectic tastes, and Morello’s solo albums allow him to stretch out beyond the hard-hitting rap metal that he’s most commonly associated with.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. On his most recent addition to the series, The Atlas Underground Flood takes artists from all different backgrounds, genres, and styles to filter their unique tastes through Morello’s heady and conscious ideals (a more cynical writer might call it “woke”, but Morello is a man who’s walked the walk for 30 years, so he deserves a more respectful analysis).
So, ever wanted to hear Morello play on a snooze-worthy indie pop-rock song? ‘The Maze’ featuring Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness is here for you. Want to hear a showdown between three of the greatest guitar players of all time? That’s on ‘I Have Seen the Way’. How about a three-way guitar duel between three of the best guitarists of the modern-day, but on flamenco guitars? Sure, here’s ‘Warrior Spirit’. Ever wonder what Morello would sound like if he joined IDLES? ‘The Bachelor’ is here for you, featuring the wild band of Bristol rockers themselves.
There are still the flourishes that are quintessential Morello: the DigiTech Whammy Pedal solo on ‘You’ll Get Yours’ that recalls the similar solo he played on Audioslave’s ‘Like a Stone’. The aforementioned ‘The Bachelor’ has more than a fair shake of Rage-esque drive. ‘Raising Hell’ might sound like a complete departure for Morello, but anyone who has heard him perform as The Nightwatchman knows that Morello can wield a mean acoustic guitar as well.
Ultimately, there’s nothing terribly challenging or boundary-pushing about The Atlas Underground Flood. It wouldn’t be a Tom Morello release if the politics didn’t show up, but there’s always that one guy at the party who makes everything political. It’s fine, and it’s a strong part of Morello private identity and public brand so it would feel strange if it was completely absent from the album, but it’s also inconsequential to the construction of the LP.
The Atlas Underground Flood is not the assembling of a supergroup to form an impromptu militia that is meant to take down the corrupt fat cats of the world. It’s a party album where everyone shows up, has a bit of lighthearted fun, and then goes home. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The Atlas Underground Flood is big, obvious, somewhat inessential, and contains career highlights from no one involved. But just like The Atlas Underground Fire, all I really want is to hear a bunch of legends and fun modern artists play off each other. All I want is a three-way guitar battle between Morello, Kirk Hammett, and Alex Lifeson. That’s worth the price of admission right there, and the entire album plays into that same sense of loose jammy fun. It’s just a good time, and sometimes albums don’t need to be anything more than a good time.