Street Sweeper Social Club
The Ghetto Blaster EP
When hip-hop’s Huey P. Newton, Boots Riley, expressed solidarity with ex-Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello last year, far-left music fans creamed their fatigues at the revolutionary possibilities. Unfortunately, what looked like a can’t-miss landslide on paper turned into a tragic junta in the studio; Riley’s usual jabs against the Man on Street Sweeper Social Club’s self-titled debut got trampled by an army of metal clichés and leadfoot rhythms.
Give the duo credit for figuring out how far they missed the mark, because this seven-song EP sounds a lot more like the coup everyone expected. The three new originals mix groove and grit convincingly, with a Led Zeppelin-esque riff driving the monolithic title track and a nasal, Ohio Players-style chorus sweetening the punch of “The New Fuck You.” As a bonus, the Club reclaims the one standout track from their debut album, the discofied “Promenade”—which, not coincidentally, was the only song on that collection to get the balance of ass-shaking and fist-waving exactly right.
On the downside, nothing can redeem M.I.A.’s excruciating 2008 hit “Paper Planes,” including making a bald-faced political statement out of the incoherent original. And there remains the question of how seriously it’s possible to take old Coup lyrics like, “Every cop is a corrupt one… Every banker is a fuckin’ thief,” especially when they’re coming from a guy as smart as Riley (just check the superior new “Scars,” which shows he also has a sense of humor, for proof), and when they’re applied to the usual Marxist fantasy about gangs of the poor taking over. But as has been the case with politically minded artists from the Clash to Chumbawamba, it’s possible to grant a pass for the inevitable ideological trouble spots when the tunes make you feel like flicking your Bic anyway. Judged by that realistic standard, you can imagine The Ghetto Blaster EP pumping out of an authentic ghetto blaster with no trouble at all.