From the first strummed notes on “Fight! Smash! Win” that begins Street Sweeper Social Club’s 39-minute debut it’s clear Nightwatchman Tom Morello is back at his day job bringing his trademark funk/rock, electric guitar-fueled rage to the masses. Boots Riley, formerly of Oakland’s political hip-hop band The Coup, is Morello’s co-conspirator, singing and co-writing all songs. Galactic’s Stanton Moore joins them on drums and Morello plays bass as well.
It’s impossible for Morello to plug in and lay down blistering guitar licks under political raps, which he refers to in interviews as “revolutionary party jams,” and not have it compared to his former band Rage Against The Machine. The topics and subjects naturally come from the left, but Riley doesn’t sing/rap with the level of anger that Zack de la Rocha used to furiously purge from his system. Nor does he write lyrics as well and this is where the album comes up short because it doesn’t seem to have any serious direction for the anger to head.
“100 Little Curses” has funny rhymes with its amusing castigation against the rich, but it’s just a wish list of potential bad things happenings, and doesn’t really get into why it’s bad for someone to rich. “The Oath” finds Morello laying down a sweet groove and Riley’s rhymes flow over it, but the song stumbles hard with its dopey chorus, as he constantly repeats “Muthafuckas!” too often throughout. “Promenade” is “a new kinda squaredance rap” supported by a fat bass and angelic background vocals, but talk of the FBI dying or us is likely a choice I doubt the vast majority of listeners will have to make.
That said, there are plenty of some good rhymes, certainly the partying college crowd will enjoy “stoner throw your flickers up/…drunks throw your liquor up.” And on “Clap For The Killers” Riley talks about who the real criminals are and “they ain’t on TV getting arrested” and Scorsese’s “lens never looks at” them, but these moments are too few and far between.
Morello’s the true standout. His guitar on “Clap” has sweet, heavy sound that is slightly distorted. On the bridge of “Somewhere In The World It’s Midnight” he makes the strings sing and squeal. “Megablast” finds him putting the effects peddles to good use as the guitar sound changes throughout. The album closes with one of the better tracks. “Nobody Moves Til We Say Go.” It has an awesome heavy bass line driving the song and a great shout-along chorus, perfect for bouncing to at concerts. He continues to be one of this era’s outstanding guitarists and his fans will be ecstatic to hear his much welcomed return to form.
Morello told The Onion, “We’re there to feed the poor, fight the power, and rock the fuck out.” On the latter, they are a great success, making an album worth hearing for the music but not for listening to the lyrics. Play it loud and make sure if you don’t have room to get up and dance, you at least have room to bob your head.