Street Sweeper Social Club‘s self-titled debut from last year was an above average combo of Boots Riley’ politically-motivated raps and Tom Morello’s rage-inducing fretwork (I apologize for that pun). Now after a year on tour, the duo cooked up a bunch of new songs and covers, which make up the Ghetto Blaster EP. Unfortunately, the result is nowhere near as interesting or entertaining as their first release. While there are a few good songs here, most of the record feels uninspired and full of throwaway tracks.
The problems start off almost immediately with “Ghettoblaster,” an abrasive, turn-it-to-11 type of song. Opening up with grinding guitars and blasting drums, Riley’s stylized rapid-fire raps come in loud and clear. His use of pacing and rhythm is pretty good, coming up with some pairings that would make Eminem jealous, like rhyming Excalibur with parameter. A slowed down chorus with shout-out backing vocals feels like something exuberant kids would come up with in a high school gym, combining a sense of energy and community. However, the problem on the song isn’t Riley, it’s Morello. The cookie-cutter grunge riff he uses is just dull and sounds like it’s been rehashed by every hard rock band from the ’90s forward.
The band’s second original song, “The New Fuck You”, is also the only SSSC song that doesn’t sound like filler from this album. The introduction is a quick, building ascension into a bluesy, angry riff from Morello that brings to mind his work in the ’90s. In fact, this track should have started this EP. It would have kicked things off in a much stronger position than what the duo chose. The chorus is simply kickass, bringing up ideas of what Outkast would have sounded like if they grew up on Rage Against The Machine. With a singsong delivery and Riley’s statement of “The new fuck you!” puncturing through the speakers, it’s the best song on the record and perhaps in the band’s short history.
When it comes to the covers, only “Everythang” really stumbles. Originally from Riley’s first group, The Coup, SSSC’s version removes all the electronic elements in favor of machine-gun drums in the chorus. A reverberating guitar solo in the middle feels like it could shatter glass, but the rest of the song falls flat. The group finds more success on L.L. Cool J’s “Momma Said Knock You Out.” If the original was indeed a threat to knock you out, Riley and Morello’s cover is what happens during the beating. The guitar work here is almost nightmarish, transforming Cool J’s melody into an attack in an abandoned alley. The only problem is its contemporary references. Hearing random shouts about tweeting and Facebook is a sure-fire way to horribly age your record over the next decade.
If “Everythang” was a failure and “Momma” was a success, than “Paper Planes” falls somewhere in the middle. Morello stays fairly faithful to the song musically, equaling the funk of M.I.A step for step. Using his guitar to simulate the gunshots and a cash register is one of the best things done on the entire EP. Add in a short, ascending solo as a nice replacement bridge, and everything seems perfect. But things aren’t going as well on Riley’s side. His delivery is way too rough and doesnt flow with M.I.A.s lyrics well at all. The stuttering pauses he includes seem like an attempt to make the song their own, but all it will do is make you dig up your copy of Kala.
After a pretty damn good debut last year, The Ghetto Blaster EP is a disappointment. With one exception, there’s not really a reason for why this record should exist as it is. The duo should have waited until their second full-length album to record the news songs and made this EP a cover-only affair. As it stands, this sounds like a selection of tracks that weren’t good enough to make it on the first LP. Let’s hope album number two fairs better.