When the 22-song Hello Nasty hits stores this summer, Beastie Boys fans will once again be taken on a far-flung joyride with the B-Boys at the wheel.
The quintessential New York hip-hop trio once more immerses itself in a variety
of styles (salsa, acoustic songs and futuristic dub, for example), without
returning to the alternating hardcore and funk dynamic that characterized
its last two albums.
From the opening track, "Super Disco Breakin'," through to the somberly sung closer, "Instant Death," Mike D (a.k.a. Mike Diamond), Ad-Rock (a.k.a. Adam Horovitz) and MCA (a.k.a. Adam Yauch) prove that, perhaps more than any of their contemporaries, they can turn listeners' heads as well as shake their booties.
When it comes to the Beastie Boys, it's not simply the group's slow album-release schedule that builds such high anticipation for its records -- it's also the B-Boys' track record for throwing curve-ball strikes with each release, as well as their proclivity for tackling other projects.
Since their last full-length album, 1994's Ill Communication, the
hip-hop innovators have played a Lollapalooza tour; released a hardcore
punk EP, an instrumental compilation and an electronica album (the last
under the name BS 2000); and staged three Tibetan Freedom Concerts, the most recent of which, held last weekend, is being hailed as the largest benefit
concert since 1985's Live Aid.
With the Beastie Boys' irons in so many fires, the direction they'd take with
their new release, Hello Nasty (July 14), has been the subject of wide speculation.
Few records this year are as eagerly awaited as the Beasties'. From the rap-metal combo of their Licensed to Ill (1986) debut to the sample
cornucopia of Paul's Boutique (1989) to the genre-mixers Check Your Head (1992) and Ill Communication [which includes the tracks "Sabotage" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Sure Shot" (RealAudio excerpt)], the Beastie Boys have become among the most successful and influential chameleons in the music business.
Here's a track-by-track breakdown of the new album:
"Super Disco Breakin' ": The name says it all here, as the B-Boys take a trip back to the old school. This one's designed to kick the party into overdrive with a crowd-pumping chorus, plenty of DJ scratching and a Run-D.M.C., tag-team rhyme style. The only '90s update is a dense beat structure that undergirds the whole song. "When we're gettin' down, we are all equal," says Ad-Rock, delivering the bottom line to it all.
"The Move": The Beasties have always scored points for undercutting swagger with humor, and they probably always will. Witness: "I don't mean to brag/ I don't mean to boast/ But I'm intercontinental when I eat French toast."
Shout-outs here include a lyrical nod to French painter Henri de
Toulouse-Lautrec and an atmospheric harpsichord sample that suggests a nod
to Wu-Tang Clan producer RZA.
"Remote Control": This one starts off with a soft rock en espanol sample that eventually gives way to a big beat and a thick guitar riff as Mike D
encourages listeners to forge their own destiny.
"Song for the Man": The keyboard and horns on "Song for the Man" sound like they were ripped straight from a 1970s TV variety-show number about one-world harmony. The Beasties -- whose live set once featured women in cages -- continue to counter the objectifying view of women on their early albums with questions like, "What makes you feel like you got the right to look her up and down?"
"Just a Test": Here, on the album's shortest cut (2:12), the simile-laden lyrics urge listeners to view mistakes as a necessary part of growth. Lines such as "Don't worry about it when you give it your best" sound almost parental
from the one-time hip-hop outlaws.
"Body Movin' ": This track sets a robotic vocal cadence to what sounds like computerized carnival music. It even includes sampled dance instructions for those who are rusty on their steps.
"Intergalactic": The Beasties proclaim their status as kings of the hip-hop hill on the album's first single, which already has been available on the band's official website (www.grandroyal.com/BeastieBoys/). All the familiar ingredients are in place -- Ad-Rock's frantic rhymes, MCA's
mix of strength and humility, Mike D's even keel between them -- darting in
between disco string accents and retro-future vocal effects.
"Sneakin' Out the Hospital": This is another in the series of the funk instrumental forays that began on Check Your Head. Here, the laid-back groove features Asian-sounding percussion and turntable spinning in place of lyrics.
"Putting Shame in Your Game": Ostensibly a track about the Beasties' integrity in rocking the party, "Putting Shame" boasts of a broader integrity as well. "Don't grease my palms with your filthy cash/ multinationals spreading like a rash," MCA raps. "I might stick around or I might be a fad/ But I won't sell myself for no TV ad."
"Flowin' Prose": Like Ill Communication's "Bodhisattva Vow," this song is largely an MCA solo joint about his quest for enlightenment. Although it's hard to hear the soft-spoken Beastie behind the fat beat, lines like "Never turn back 'cause that's the way it is" come through loud and clear.
"And Me": Here the Beastie Boys take a new turn as Mike D forgoes rapping in favor of straight singing. Lyrics about electricity and gravity swirl around a dub beat and dense texture of background sounds to create what could be a children's song for the information-overload generation of the 21st century.
"Three MC's and One DJ": This track serves as the Beasties' reply to those who wonder why they swapped their former scratcher DJ Hurricane for Invisbl Skratch Piklz turntablist Mixmaster Mike. The cut starts off with an answering-machine message that Mixmaster left for Mike D on which he throws mad scratches out live over the phone. From there, it moves on to a bare-bones showcase as the B-Boys toast the Mixmaster and he responds from the decks.
"The Grasshopper Unit ... (Keep Movin')": This rap is seemingly about everyday Beasties likes and wants, with beats, scratches and background sounds that bounce up and down as much as the insect in the title.
"Song for Junior": Just in time for summer, the B-Boys turn in a warm, Latin-flavored instrument. The song includes sharp flute and xylophone solos apparently snatched from live records of old.
"I Don't Know": This song is undoubtedly the most delicate piece in the Beastie Boys' catalog. MCA again ventures into spiritual questions, this time over acoustic guitar, upright bass and brush drums. Sample lyric: "I'm walking
through time, deluded as the next guy/ pretending and hoping to find that
distant peace of mind."
"The Negotiation Limerick File": "Tell me what makes you so afraid/ of all these people you say you hate?" ask the Beasties on this playful but sincere call for compromise and understanding. Inquisitive-sounding synth and string samples underscore the idealistic atmosphere.
"Electrify": The imperative "Electrify!" becomes a synonym for attaining clear vision on this track, the music for which seems built upon film soundtracks from the 1950s.
"Picture This": You can almost smell the incense burning in the studio on this one. The Beasties turn the mic over to a female vocalist who injects the already late-night vibe with the trance-inducing, Beatnik-ish refrain, "Something on the window sill."
"Unite": This track -- complete with scattered video-game sounds and frenetic scratching -- is largely a general summons for global peace, though the
Beasties aren't above throwing in some specific requests, such as the
exasperated plea "Would someone in the Knicks please drive the lane?"
"Dedication": This shout-out to the Bay Area, Bangkok, the Dead Sea and all locales between features a bevy of old-school synthesizer noises that sound perfect for the creation scene in some fictional hip-hop Frankenstein film.
"Dr. Lee, Ph.D.": The album's longest track (4:48) revolves around the mystic wisdom of reggae/dub master Lee "Scratch" Perry. "This is a living dream from the Beastly Brothers," Perry intones, perhaps he being the only person who knows if he purposely mispronounced the band's name. "The Beastly Boys," he adds, "with their beastly toys, give you some beastly joys."
"Instant Death": Although the title for this song makes it sound like a hardcore cut, it's actually a softly sung number about final questions and wishes. The title stems from a lyrical appeal to be taken quickly at the end of life, which in the song is followed by a fast rise in beats and bells before shutting
the album down.