It’s been six years since The Coup last released an album, but it’s only about four seconds into Sorry to Bother You that it starts to feel like the band never left. That’s when frontman Boots Riley issues his first call to consciousness/attention/arms — “Come on kids! Gather round! Listen up!” — and the first song, “The Magic Clap,” explodes into sheer punk-funk exuberance, one part Stankonia-era Outkast and one part Bowie circa “Suffragette City,” with Riley’s trademark smoking-weed-behind-the-gym-during-the-pep-rally snarl punctuated by handclaps, chunky guitars, and a chorus of children’s voices. The whole thing’s so much fun it’s hard to tell whether it’s a party rap or a political anthem.
Judging by Riley’s outspokenness or his involvement with Occupy or his radical-even-by-Oakland-standards politics, it’d be easy to forget, especially after so long without a new release, that The Coup is, at its core, as as committed to solid musicianship as it is to social justice, all about both the booty-shaking and the fist-pumping. Sorry to Bother You opens with guns blazing on both counts, and pretty much stays there. Even a song with a title as foreboding as “The Guillotine” still feels, somehow, like a quasi-dance track, and a notably broader and bolder set of musical references — Seventies funk and the aforementioned Outkast, to be sure, but also The Clash, The Talking Heads, even TV on the Radio on some tracks — proves that for Riley and Co., both the message and the medium matter. Gather ’round and listen up. (Anti-)