The Coup are certainly one of the more unlikely success stories in hip hop, in that on paper you’d never think that a group led by self-avowed Marxist like Boots Riley could be this popular in the States for as long as they have. However, one of the magical elements to The Coup is the way that Riley, Pam the Funkstress, and others have been able to package their radical politics in a musical style that marries a danceable funk and rock energy that will draw people in before a lot of listeners realize just how far left they stand. They’ve slowed down their production since the 2000’s, with Sorry To Bother You marking their first album since 2006’s Pick a Bigger Weapon, but they don’t waste any time getting right back to what they do best.

Sorry To Bother You picks up right where they left off with their last album, this time upping the energy level even more, with more of a live feel to the record and feeding off of a group energy. The record jumps at you and moves along pretty quickly, drawing from early rock and roll, punk, new wave, funk, and hip hop, making for a style that sounds at once familiar and also unique to The Coup. Listening to the album, I can only imagine that this album in particular will go over great in a live concert setting. They’ve already released videos for three songs, “Magic Clap,” “Land of 7 Billion Dances,” and “The Guillotine,” and they all play up the energy of the live performance. It’s this infectious liveliness that really draws you in, which then frees up Boots Riley to lay down lyrics that can educate and inspire others to take a more radical stance when it comes to social and political issues. There are times when the combination of sonic elements and lyrics come together in an absolutely amazing way, such as on “The Gods of Science.” The track, featuring Vernon Reid of Living Colour, is driven by a simple kick drum pushing the beat while a guitar plays a quick syncopated rhythm and keyboard provides a short, melodic riff. A three-part vocal harmony delivers the chorus, reminiscent of Cream, before Boots Riley comes in to drop his cleverest lyrics on the album. Instrumentation slowly builds toward the end of the song, as horns and woodwinds and strings come into to add a sense of grandeur to an otherwise simple riff, only to end abruptly. Humor and playfulness have long been staples of The Coup’s sound as well, but there are points on Sorry To Bother You when they get in the way of the music. The most notable flaw is “Your Parent’s Cocaine,” which through a combination of the use of kazoos (which immediately trigger the “novelty” alert in my brain), and lyrics and subject matter that don’t allow for any subtly, just make it a prime candidate to be skipped upon repeat listens. The majority of the album works extremely well, though, and we get some unexpected surprises as well, such as “His Year.” It plays out as a rock anthem that sounds at home next to Joe Jackson or Tom Petty, and doesn’t even feature Boots Riley on the mic, instead just relying on the vocals of labelmate Jolie Holland. In this context of this song, she actually sounds more like Tina Turner than her usual peaceful and folky solo material. The second track with Jolie Holland, “We’ve Got A Lot To Teach You, Cassius Green,” actually brings in a lot more of Holland’s style to the album, ending in a Louisiana back porch jam, complete with washboard percussion. It’s another unexpected moment that works well in the context of the record as a whole.

In a fall of one of the strangest and most turbulent years that I can remember, I’m glad that we’re getting a new album from The Coup. Boots Riley is up front as ever with lyrics to push us to challenge the status quo, but he’s enlisted a lot of help to ensure that the record is musically exciting and challenging as well. That might mean the occasional experiment that doesn’t work, but that’s a small price to pay for an album as bold and exciting as Sorry To Bother You.