There is something instantly powerful about the sound of the guitar when Tom Morello is performing. It’s what drove Rage Against The Machine and Audiososlave as it fueled both successful groups before their eventual fallouts. Fortunately for fans of the riffs, that power manifests itself yet again on The Ghetto Blaster EP from Street Sweeper Social Club, Morello’s group with The Coup’s Boots Riley, who’s also made a name for himself with militant rhymes in his arsenal. The Blaster is the duo’s second release, following last year’s self titled debut, which received mixed reviews, but it is merely an appetizer with seven tracks, including remixes and covers along with some original content.
Much like their debut, this EP comes with little buzz but it packs quite a musical punch. With Morello leading the charge, it’s easy, as it always is, to be reminded of his work with Rage Against The Machine. This disc is reminiscent of the group’s Renegades project, particularly due to Street Sweeper’s stellar covers of LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” and M.I.A.’s “Swagga Like Us”-inspiring “Paper Planes.” Both showcase Morello’s expertise, crafting new work out of established tracks, manipulating sounds to make it all work. Though performing covers somewhat takes away from Riley’s writing, the musical reworking of these tracks (and “Everythang”) really gives them a fresh take. Morello is solid throughout; particularly rocking solos when he gets the chance, showing off on “The New Fuck You” and providing head-nodders (or head bangers) with each cut.
As the vocalist, Riley shines when he adds his personal commentary, noting that “Hip Hop is the new Rock” while declaring that “revolution is the new fuck you.” Rhyming alongside such strong sounds, he manages to keep his head above water, though not always consistently. While Riley is more about the message than lyrical wizardry, his rhyming sometimes falls short with repetitive pieces. Their reprise of The Coup’s “Everythang,” for instance, relies on the word “every” being repeated throughout each bar, which is somewhat clever, though monotonous. Then, the shtick continues on “Scars,” where Riley uses repetition once again on every bar. While it can be a great tool to highlight a point, when Riley overuses this, the rhymes lose their strength and the flows seem too simplistic. With Morello’s backing, the rhyming and vocal presence need to be on par, and that isn’t always the case here. The message is still strong, but the delivery is lost.
For an album with less than a handful of original pieces (two covers and two remixes take away from that), it’s hard to gauge the group’s growth from the mixed reviews of their self-titled debut. It’s also hard to do so when those covers are two of the best tracks on the EP. It seems that this disc is only an appetizer to set the stage for their new material, but fans should hope the main course is more thoroughly enjoyable.