With his latest side project, political hip-hop icon Boots Riley has taken the advice of The Coup’s last album title and picked a bigger weapon: the beastly electric guitar of activist and Rage Against The Machine-ist Tom Morello. Commercially, Morello’s signature sound is huge; it’s the engine that put millions into corporate coffers backing up Zack De La Rocha’s capitalism-bashing vitriol. It’s just as huge sonically, an arena-ready weapon of mass sonic destruction. Alas, in Street Sweeper Social Club, it’s arguably too fucking big: Riley’s literate storytelling and gentle humanism get trampled under the airplane-engine roar of Morello’s thundering riffs.
In a bid to match the intensity and sonic power of Morello’s guitar, Riley abandons the broad emotional and musical palette of The Coup in favor of shouting slogans over distressingly similar sonic backdrops that ooze aggression and head-banging force. Riley is one of the greatest lyricists in hip-hop history, so it’s depressing to hear him sound like a poor man’s De La Rocha. Morello’s furious fretwork doesn’t complement Boots’ dumbed-down lyrics so much as it drowns them out: It’s oppressive and overwhelming. In hooking up with one of pop’s biggest guitarists, Boots picked a bigger weapon, but not a better one.