The opening lines of The Coup's new album, Pick A Bigger Weapon, speak of contradiction. It is from between one of modern life's central juxtapositions -- the primary forces of sensual, emotional love and brutal economic reality -- “bullets and love” -- that The Coup's frontman/auteur Boots Riley draws his material for the most lyrically and musically ambitious album of his career. Riley's often wildly comedic storytelling takes a stance in American art that embraces the ambiguities of our vast and tormented history, rather than seeking some definitive “truth” about the American experience. Think of Twain's travel adventure of a boy or Melville's reworking of the nautical yarn. Theirs is a style of twists and turns, sudden leaps from grand philosophy to minute prosaic detail, comedy to tragedy -- a tale that begins as one thing and ends as something radically different.
In “Tiffany Hall,” what starts as a playful tribute to a girl from school, over a slow, carnal groove that brings to mind the best of Marvin Gaye, suddenly turns sobering as Boots learns she has died from complications following cosmetic surgery to reduce her curves. “I Love Boosters!” launches over a funky march as a broad, comic ode to shoplifting and then halfway through shifts to something far subtler, finally offering a tender tribute to the women who clothed him fashionably, despite economic hardship. The agitated funk underpinning of the track only heightens the workaday detail of the surprisingly uncontroversial way of life portrayed by the song.
Pick A Bigger Weapon weaves these contradictions into some of the freshest audioscapes The Coup have ever produced. Backed by a stellar band that includes Audioslave's Tom Morello, Dwayne Wiggins, and veterans of Parliament-Funkadelic, the Gap Band, Toni! Tony! Toné!, Jesse Johnson, and Frankie Beverly and Maze, the album's uniquely bent grooves point to "Dirty Mind"-era Prince, late-80s Too Short, and the trunk-rattling hyphy sonics of the New Bay movement.
In the end, Riley offers us nothing more complicated than two people trying to snatch one more night of peace, love and sanity by leaving what may be his only mission statement to co-conspirator Silk-E. Her plaintive vocal on “BabyLet'sHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethin'Crazy” croons a wish for love in the time of impending apocalypse. The track captures the hope, the doomed sadness, and the contradictory emotions of daily life for much of America. “We might never get our money right…”
"All we have on earth are our seconds and minutes, and in order to survive, we're forced to sell that time. We sell our lives off to the highest bidder," says Boots. "The question is how would we use those seconds if we had control of that time?"