3.5 stars (out of 4)
A presidential election. The national debate over the widening economic gulf between rich and poor. Political rebellions across the world. Yes, the timing’s just about perfect for another studio album from Oakland agit-rappers the Coup.
Without directly referencing any of the above, Raymond “Boots” Riley and company turn “Sorry to Bother You” (Anti) into a series of dispatches from the neighborhood. Their songs are populated by marginalized civilians struggling to make do in a society that often seems oblivious, if not contemptuous, of their existence. What’s different from earlier Coup albums is the increasing sophistication of the songwriting, a more nuanced sense of vulnerability, that makes the group accessible to rebels and non-revolutionaries alike.
With wicked humor and trashy but insistent rhythms, Riley keeps a lid on the preachiness. He cleverly folds state-of-the-classroom messages about the education system and ominous assessments of how corporate dollars control and subvert scientific progress inside raucous party songs and catchy melodies.
“The Magic Clap” and “Strange Arithmetic” instantly put a dance beat behind the uprising, hip-hop spiked with garage-rock guitars, soul claps and funky organ. Kazoos set the mocking tone of “Your Parents’ Cocaine” and the ghost of Wilson Pickett joins the party-out-of-bounds anthem “Land of 7 Billion Dances.” Even Andy Warhol is called out in a riotous piece of art-world criticism, “You are not a Riot.”
Yet Riley also pulls off the chamber pop of “Violet,” a gritty love story about two desperados, and the delicate, fairy-tale-like “We’ve Got a Lot to Teach You, Cassius Green,” about a monstrous corporate takeover. “WAVIP” closes the album with an anti-climatic “we are all V.I.P.” chant, the only dud on an album that otherwise makes even the hardest-hitting messages sound care-free and danceable.
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