Oakland's politically provocative collective The Coup has long been making albums full of strong statements about upending the social order. But The California Report's pop music critic Steve Hochman says their latest, "Sorry to Bother You," will also upset the order on the dance floor. Reporter: Steve Hochman
C'mon kids! Gather 'round! Boots is gonna tell us a story. And what a tuneful, rhythmic, inviting tale it is ... irresistible even. The music on "Sorry to Bother You," the first album in six years by Oakland outfit The Coup, is going to make your feet move and your face smile. Just start with the first track, "The Magic Clap." No way around it. This is fun stuff.
This is the kind of music you'd put on a club mix alongside Prince, OutKast, Gnarls Barkley, Beck, Beastie Boys and Digital Underground. There's rock, soul and hip-hop, but in organic combinations that stand as something of their own. And there's a vividly eclectic roster of guests, from Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, sitar eccentric Gabby La La, to up-and-coming singer-songwriter Bhi Bhiman. And on the New Wave-y "My Murder, My Love," Riley's joined by a chorus featuring La La, Jolie Holland and Joe Henry.
But, this is The Coup, led by Boots Riley, who a few months ago in the New York Times, declared himself an unapologetic Communist. So you know that any story he's telling is going to have a message. No way around it. This is pointed stuff.
The bouncy beat and delivery on "Strange Arithmetic" is reminiscent of Outkast, if Outkast was imploring teachers to turn kids into revolutionaries.
Then "You Are Not a Riot" gives us, The Gap Band joining Rage Against the Machine to bash the fashionista and upper-crusty punks who, to Riley, are not mere poseurs but tools of the corporate state.
It's not all dance music with hectoring. On the song "Violet," Riley turns somber, introspective with a track and rap, tone-wise, somewhere in the range of Will Smith's "Two of Us" or Eminem's "Stan," with strings quoting Pachelbel and Silk-E singing the female counterparts. And in place of the screeds is a dark portrait of loneliness and isolation in a ghetto wasteland.
You could just listen to the music and ignore the words, and you'd be fine. But even if you don't like the message, listen to the poetry of it, as well as Riley's ability to grasp both the moment and the deep history behind it.
And just when you think you know what to expect, then listen to the album's penultimate track, the very provocative "The Guillotine." It sounds like Riley corralled the kids chorus from Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and has them all poised to storm today's Bastilles. But in the world of The Coup, while you storm, you're going to be partying. No way around it.