Listen: Sorry to Bother You
The Coup (Epitaph, 2012)
First, a warning: The lyrics on this album feature the usual hip-hop profanity, and there is no edited version. For many that is reason enough to ignore both the album and this review. However, adult listeners who are willing to proceed will find an astounding, multi-layered, and broadly inclusive musical statement that speaks proudly and defiantly for the voiceless of 21st-century America.
The Coup is founded and led by Boots Riley. Riley spent his teen years obsessed with the British New Wave sound of the 1980s, and there has always been a rock edge to his work. Sorry to Bother You pulls off a rap-rock fusion whose closest precedent would be the 1970s work of George Clinton with his twin bands Parliament and Funkadelic.
But punk rock has happened since then, so The Coup’s tempos are a lot faster. In fact, the track “Strange Arithmetic,” a piece of hyperactive schoolhouse rock which features the chorus “Teacher, stand up, you need to tell us how to flip this system,” is what the Ramones would have sounded like with a better sense of rhythm and a political analysis. Other tracks, especially “Land of 7 Billion Dances” and the album-closer “WAVIP” (for “We Are All VIPs”), feature rampaging synthesizer bass lines worthy of such ’80s funksters as The Gap Band.A
So Boots Riley is a pop music genius. But he is also a self-proclaimed communist, which for him means “the people having democratic control over the profits that they create.” As the Christian reviewer of Sorry to Bother You pointed out on popmatters.com, one thing the communist and Christian traditions share is a belief in a final, perhaps even apocalyptic, culmination of history. At its best, Sorry to Bother You is animated by that quasi-religious hope for a turning of the tables toward justice. And even at its worst, it is still an exhilarating piece of sonic pop art.
This article appeared in the February 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 2, pages 50-51).