Sound — 8
After releasing the lukewarmly-received instrumental endeavor "The Mix-Up" in 2007, the Beastie Boys have re-emerged triumphantly with their irreverent and thumping "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two". A refreshing return to form, the album has songs for every type of listener. While this album is not of the same caliber as their 1988 sample odyssey "Paul's Boutique", it is a valued and welcome addition to any Beastie fan. The B-Boys have ditched their samples and have instead picked up their instruments to lay down some organic hip-hop as a 3-piece band. Whether it's the relentless drumming by Mike D in the pseudo-hardcore "Lee Majors Come Again", or MCA's buttery bassline in the tectonic instrumental, "Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament", the Beasties prove to any dissenters that even at the tender age of 45, they can still lay down sick beats and brilliant, biting rhymes with better precision than musicians half their age. I'm going to break down each song in order as found on the album. 01. "Make Some Noise": the Beastie Boys open the album with some crunchy, distorted electric organ licks (provided by keyboardist and longtime Beastie pal, Money Mark) and Ad-Rock proclaiming "The best is yet to come / and yes, believe this". A brilliant track that should put any nervous fan at ease. 02. "Nonstop Disco Powerpack" - in my opinion, this is the strongest track on the record. In typical Beastie fashion, the three MCs trade reverb-drenched rhymes in a laid-back (but still driving) manner. As close to pure hip-hop as you can come in modern times. My only beef with the track is that it runs a little long for a Beastie Boys song, with a runtime of about 4:15. Duration aside, the song is musically tight, and it's pretty obvious that the Beasties are having plenty of fun. "This is the way we run it down / we're getting high on the funky sound". 03. "Ok": a fun, bouncy track that will delight any Beastie fan. However, the lyrics are not particularly stimulating. With the chorus being "Yeah, yeah / Right, right / Okay!", it begins to border on Black Eyed Peas-level triteness. Ad-Rock doesn't help the situation by providing the lines, "I don't give a f--k who the hell you are / Please stop shouting at your cell-u-lar / I never asked to be part of your day / So please stop shouting at your phone, okay?" Sorry, grandpa. 04. "Too Many Rappers": this song features a guy named Nas. The song is about how there's "Too many rappers / and not enough MCs". I've consulted a handful of sources, and they all say that Nas is a rapper. So, right off the bat, I'm not exactly sold on this track. It doesn't get any better. A pretty straightforward rap song. Nothing too exciting happening. A brief highlight is when Ad-Rock shouts, "Oh my God, just look at me / Grandpa been rappin' since '83!", which is chuckle-worthy. But the collaboration with Nas adds nothing, and results in a pretty forgettable experience. 05. "Say It": a harder song, but one with more musical value than the previous track. MCA's fuzzed-out bass carries the bottom, and his iconic growl shines through with as much gruff as ever. Personally, it's one of my favorites. As soon as the song trails off, a goofy musical snippet arrives and transforms into a big, juicy end to a solid Beastie song. 06. "The Bill Harper Collection": a 24-second palate-cleanser that consists of some guy named Bill leaving a brief voicemail. Seems like an inside joke that everyone except the Boys themselves is on the outside of. Skip this one. Unless you know Bill Harper. 07. "Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win": a surprise, for sure. First of all, this is basically an up-tempo reggae song. Secondly, its predominant vocalist is a woman named Santigold. After you adjust to this little curveball, it becomes a tremendously addicting song that begs to be replayed just so you can understand what's really going on here. Santigold's voice is not, uh, particularly beautiful, but neither are the Beastie's, so it works very well. For some reason, the Beasties thought it was a good idea to re-use a sample of Ad-Rock saying "That's danger!" about twenty-thousand times, which got a little annoying, but it's otherwise a true Beastie Boys gem that should not be overlooked. 08. "Long Burn The Fire": this song just bored me. With the exception of their unmistakable voices, this one sounds like every other rap song I've heard in the last couple years. What's always intrigued me about the Beastie Boys is that they are able to remain an idiosyncratic force of surprising and head-scratchingly odd beats/rhymes in a sea of bland, cookie-cutter rap songs. Not on this one. Swing and a miss. 09. "Funky Donkey": doing a total 180-degree turn from the previous borefest, this oddity is truly one of the weirdest songs they've every released. While it's not exactly "funk", it's not really... anything else, either. It's just weird. But the good weird! With an undulating bassline beneath him, Ad-Rock announces that he "Takes a schvitz / I'm known for my glamor and my glitz!". This goofiness is what put the Beasties on the map, and now that they've established themselves and are able to create more mainstream hits, it warms my heart that they can still be total whackjobs whenever the spirit moves them. This one is a keeper. 10. "The Larry Routine": a 31-second interlude in which all of the Boys announce that they've "Got a new name / and that new name is, LAR-RAY!". Not bad. What else are you going to do for 31 seconds? 11. "Tadlock's Glasses": an experimental trip through a murky sonisphere punctuated by staccato beeps and boops, and some swirling vocals. You basically have to wade through a quagmire of spacey hums to get anything from this track. Not exactly my cup of tea, but if you do any sort of illegal hallucinogens, this one's for you, slugger! 12. "Lee Majors Come Again": someone classified this song as "rapcore". I respectfully disagree. At their inception, the Beastie Boys were a hardcore band, and this is a hardcore song. It's a low-down, dirty track that makes use of all the Boys' hardcore chops. The subject matter is a little strange (a quick Wikipedia search revealed that Lee Majors is a 72-year-old actor whose most famous work was "The Six Million Dollar Man". The more you know!), and the lyrics are out there as well, with Mike D exclaiming at 1:12, "There's a bird in here! / ... That's my DJ, not Doctor Brassiere". No complaints about this one. 13. "Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament": a lurking, groovy instrumental. A website described this song as "Subterranean", which I would agree with. Mike D's drum tone is magnificent. Bah, all the instrumentation on this track is perfect. The title struck me as odd, but at some points, you can hear a digitized voice repeating "Make it happen, we can make it happen". So the Beastie Boys are chiming in on some of the more important things going on, as they have been doing for awhile now, which is not unwelcome. This one is a must-listen. 14. "Here's A Little Something For Ya": another classic Beastie Boys anthem that reminds me a little of "Eggman" from "Paul's Boutique". Ad-Rock and MCA's vocals are really tremendous on this track, spitting complex, syncopated lyrics for the entire duration of the song. The track is punctuated by a bouncing, chewy breakdown, courtesy of keyboardist Money Mark. As a whole, this song is a treat, and is, for the most part, unskippable. 15. "Crazy A-s Sh-t": the song opens with a couple of young kids repeating a hook, and then evolves into a full-fledged hip-hop romp. The kids are a little disconcerting, but if you can get over that, it's a pretty solid song. There may be a slight nod to the Boys' monster hit, "Brass Monkey" at the very end of the track, but you can never tell with these guys. 16. "The Lisa Lisa / Full Force Routine": a ridiculous title, but a groovy little track that clocks in at about 48 seconds with a tempo change about halfway through. Reminds me a little bit of "Hello Brooklyn". A soft ending to a very good album.
Lyrics — 7
First and foremost, my favorite music to listen to is either alternative rock (Smashing Pumpkins, Beck, White Stripes, etc.) or classical music (Chopin, Debussy, Liszt, etc.). I don't really focus on lyrics too much, but the Beastie Boys have always stood out to me as the most unique act in music as a whole. Beastie Boys lyrics can run the gambit from ultra-serious to uber-goofy, which is another reason why I'm a big fan. Despite Mike D, Ad-Rock, and MCA getting closer and closer to becoming members of the AARP, their voices show no signs of faltering. The lyrics are what you'd expect from the Beastie Boys, but something that I'm going to have to deduct for is the way in which the vocals were mixed. For the most part, the vocals are distorted, sometimes beyond all recognition. It's been 2 weeks since the album's release, and there are very few lyric transcriptions available, and the ones that are available are riddled with "?". "Tadlock's Glasses" and "Funky Donkey" are guilty of this vocal convolution, but there are other offenders as well. But, I can't take too much off for that, since the lyrics that can be deciphered are classic Beastie. I don't mean to say that the lyrics are incomprehensible; you can probably hear 85% of what they're saying per track. Maybe it's just a personal opinion, but when I'm listening to a voice, I like clarity. Overall, good lyrics, good singing, but the presentation could use some work.
Overall Impression — 8
This is a great addition to any fan's library. Perhaps what's more important is that it also serves as a sufficient user's guide to the Beastie Boys for someone who might not be particularly familiar with them. The songs are fun, fast, and dripping with bass. It's not perfect, and I've left a few tracks off my MP3 player, but it's by no means a poor effort. In addition to this album, they also released a short film featuring a cornucopia of ubiquitous celebrities that any self-respecting B-Boy fan should check out. Even if you're not a fan, it's still good old-fashioned Beastie Boy fun. Are the Beastie Boys able to recapture the previously bottled lighting that resulted in "Paul's Boutique"? Not exactly, but it's still a damn good effort, and is an even more promising sign of what we can expect in the future. Also, everyone should send good vibes to frontman Adam MCA Yauch. He was diagnosed with cancer in his parotid gland. Get well soon, MCA.