First things first: Yes, this is the album whose cover was to feature the group members blowing up the World Trade Center. The Coup, hip-hop's most notorious Marxists, have been calling for an attack on capitalism for a long time, and their album design was simply the victim of bad luck, poor timing, and the interesting coincidence involving the placement of their faux explosions. But the problem with Party Music (the cover of which now features a martini glass filled with flaming gasoline) is not that the Coup are insensitive creeps -- in fact they care a lot, and their songs are filled with the passionate cries and anger of the American working class. The problem isn't even the music, which is quite good. The problem is that after a decade of listening to "Fight the Power" screamed at the top of the lungs, it's hard to listen to yet another album of the same old songs. In short the Coup, like the folksingers of the Sixties and hardcore bands of the Eighties, have fallen victim to the lethal synergy of all talk and no action.
The Coup's apex was 1994's sophomore LP, Genocide & Juice, which showcased lead MC and artistic force Boots Riley's enormous talent for allegory and humor. Its most powerful tracks, "Fat Cats, Bigga Fish" and "Pimps (Live at the Fortune 500)," were both hilarious and poignant, telling the sad tale of America's hidden class polarization. The latter song was a double-edged parody, casting Boots and former straight man E-Roc in the roles of David Rockefeller and John Paul Getty in a sendup of the clichéd "cars, 'hos, and money" rhyme. Sadly much of this humor is gone on Party Music. Although the album pushes musical boundaries, incorporating analog synths with Eighties-style beats, the rabble-rousing lyrics lack the power they once had. It's not that Riley's lost his touch -- he remains the Phil Ochs of the hip-hop generation, with plenty of one-liners and slogans, most of them pretty good. It's that it just doesn't seem to matter anymore.
Riley is at the top of his game, however, on "Wear Clean Draws," an open letter to his daughter, and the bittersweet coming-of-age tale, "Nowalaters," both shining examples of Riley's gift with words. And his call for action, "Heven Tonite," which picks up where 1999's brilliant "Underdogs" left off, also displays Riley's genius for poetic characterization. Still, three tracks hardly save an album that ceases to provoke the revolution it madly urges.
Revolutionary heroes have a shelf life, and after it expires it's hard to stay afloat. Bob Dylan found God and sank anyway. The Clash found hip-hop and sank as well. Flavor Flav found crack.... Unfortunately history doesn't offer too much consolation for music's political ponies, no matter how great their talent.