Having fun in troubled times: That's the theme running through the Beastie Boys' new album, To the 5 Boroughs, due this summer.
Part love letter to New York, part political commentary and part, well, pop-cultural smorgasbord, the 15-song Boroughs is the trio's first new LP since 1998's Hello Nasty.
"The last album was a good album," Beastie Boy Ad-Rock said in a prerecorded video interview that accompanied media-listening sessions for the new album. "But coach felt we needed to work on defense and stuff in the off-season. So the past — I don't know, three years? — we've been working on defense."
Fans won't have much time to contemplate how different the older, ostensibly wiser Beastie Boys are from their younger selves. The album's first song, "Ch-Check It Out," also its first single, is a blast from the past, with Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA mugging for the mic and weaving through a rumbling bed of throwback breakdance beats.
Boroughs has a distinctly old-school feel thanks to synthesized bass lines and scattered percussion laced with classic hip-hop samples. On "Triple Trouble" the Beasties flow into the harmonized rhymes of vintage hip-hop group Double Trouble. While DJ Mix Master Mike cuts up the song's extended rhythms, Ad-Rock rhymes, "Versatile like All-Temp-a-Cheer/ If you wanna drink, call Mr. Belvedere/ Run this rap game like a brigadier."
The litany of pop-culture references is matched, if not eclipsed, by the amount of politically and socially engaged lyrics. The Beasties aren't shy about who they fault for the chaos they see around them — and it's safe to say no one in the Bush family will be rocking this Beasties album in the limo.
"We've got a president we didn't elect/ The Kyoto Treaty he decided to neglect," MCA rhymes on "Time to Build." It's one of several songs in which he overtly, colloquially comments on the issues in the world today.
To the cynical, the Beasties' we're-all-in-this-together rhymes will probably sound hokey, like when Ad-Rock, also on "Time to Build," raps, "Why you hatin' on people that you never met/ Didn't your mama teach you to show some respect?" Or when the group harmonizes for the chorus of "All Lifestyles": "We gotta keep the party goin' on/ All lifestyles, sizes, shapes and forms."
The other ingredient in Boroughs, obvious from its album title, is the Boys' love of New York. Tentative cover art features a sketch of the Manhattan skyline, including the former World Trade Center. Boroughs was recorded in the group's new studio on the west side of Manhattan.
Songs like "An Open Letter to NYC" pay homage to the city in literal terms. The song sounds like a mash-up remix of a lost, post-disco New York rock track, with snarling guitars and a buoyant bass line. MCA raps, "Dear New York, I hope you're doing well/ I know a lot's happened and you've been through hell/ So we give thanks for providing a home/ Through your gates at Ellis Island we passed in droves."
Track list for To the 5 Boroughs, according to a spokesperson:
- "Ch-Check It Out"
- "Right Right Now Now"
- "The Hard Way"
- "Time to Build"
- "Rhyme the Rhyme Well"
- "Triple Trouble"
- "Hey F--- You"
- "Oh Word?"
- "That's It That's All"
- "All Lifestyles"
- "An Open Letter to NYC"
- "The Brouhaha"
- "We Got The"