The debut album of Street Sweeper Social Club can best be described as an invitation. The group’s two founders, Boots Riley and Tom Morello, use all of their collective talent to entice us into joining their revolution against bombs, bailouts, and big business.
The combination of Riley and Morello makes for a funkier version of Rage Against the Machine, leaning more on the hip hop side of the music than the hard rock. This isn’t a retread of old territory for him though. While his trademark heavy riffs are found all over the album, they’re played in a much more rhythmic fashion than in his previous position. Riley’s raps also influence the sound of the group by making Morello follow his lead as much as he follows Morello’s lead.
Street Sweeper Social Club’s anger has moved away from RATM’s target, Washington, to the new bad guys on Wall Street. A large majority of Riley’s lyrics take shots at the rich and famous that walked over everyone else and helped sink America’s economy. That’s not all Riley wants to talk about though. He goes through multiple subjects, such as the parallel between civilian murders by soldiers and gangsters in “Clap For The Killers”. He also uses time as a metaphor to explore the stark contrast in different regions of the globe on “Somewhere In The World It’s Midnight”. The album’s lyrics are definitely a huge plus on many tracks and show how underrated Boots Riley is as a rapper.
The highlight of the album comes in the form of its first single, “100 Little Curses”. Starting off with a militaristic drumbeat and panicky guitar, the song moves into a fuzzy-riffed chorus as a crowd chants behind an electronic voice speaking the song’s title. Riley follows this up with some of the album’s best lyrics as he lists all the curses he wishes to inflict on the upper class (May you tumble and fall down your grand marble stairway/May that caviar pÃ¢té you were eating block your airway).
This is followed by “The Oath”, which starts off with a slower and lighter arrangement that’s complemented by a pattern of bells. Riley’s lyrics find him in a reflective mood as he talks about mirrors and lampposts having seen him before. This breather doesn’t last long though as the guitar turns up in volume and the track transforms into a party song for the revolution. The juxtaposition here between the soft-spoken intro and the yelps of the main verses is pretty jarring, especially since the lyrics seem to completely change subjects.
“The Oath” shows the biggest problem with Street Sweeper’s debut album. Quite a few of the tracks seem like they’re just party tunes. Even though the music is good, the songs feel like filler when compared with the rest of the album’s political nature. It’s very tough to transition from “But somewhere in the world it’s midnight/And the guerrillas just shot two pigs” to “Shock! Shock!/We gonna shock you again!/Shock you again!” The closer, “Nobody Moves Til We Say Go”, is the worst example of this. Most of the lyrics are just the title repeated over and over. It feels like a typical party song that asks the crowd to jump or dance around.
Even though Street Sweeper Social Club’s debut isn’t perfect, it’s still worth the listen. Morello is as great as he’s always been and Riley’s rap skills should not be missed. If you let this album stand as its own and ignore any Rage Against the Machine comparisons, you’ll definitely enjoy it. Invitation accepted.