Review Summary: The Beastie Boys, with lyrics by Michael Moore.
The Beastie Boys are responsible for some of my favorite albums ever - Paul's Boutique
, Check Your Head
, Ill Communication
- three genre-crossing and genre-defining records mixing hip hop, hardcore punk and jazz fusion. So what the hell happened with To the 5 Boroughs
? Well, for one, they decided that they weren't performing enough hip hop on their albums, so they ditched the genre-crossing in favor of a electro-pop sound that was badly dated even when this album came out. Second, the lyrics so blatantly promote the group's left-wing politics that this album ends up sounding like it was ghostwritten by Michael Moore (he would
name-drop "Columbine bowling" in his own rhyme if he ever recorded a rap album). None of this is particularly helpful.
The reason that people like to listen to the Beastie Boys' albums is because they're fun. In addition to being lyrically humorous, it's worth listening to their records just to find out which genre they'll jump into next. Paul's Boutique
practically created alternative hip hop, and the samples are cross-cut in such a way that the album sounds like what would happen if Frank Zappa
made a rap album. Check Your Head
and Ill Communication
throw back to the Beasties' punk days with live instrumentation, and incorporate elements of jazz-funk into the mix, along with the punk and rap tracks. "Sabotage" is a rap-rock classic.
There's nothing particularly memorable about To the 5 Boroughs
, other than the fact that the Beasties' inflated egos have allowed them to believe that this album is a "tribute" to New York City. I think there could have been better ways to pay tribute to your city. One of them would be to record with different New York-based musicians and create an album that flowed in and out of the various sounds New York can produce. Another would be to not drop anti-American rhymes like "we need a bit more gun controlling" and "we got a president we didn't elect".
More overtly, the music sounds bad
. There's nothing inventive or clever about anything in the way that To the 5 Boroughs
is organized or recorded. The music is hollow-sounding. The Beastie Boys were supposed to be the band that sounded different from other hip hop groups. These guys were supposed to be inventive, fun. This album is not original or clever. It's painfully dull. By lacking any resemblance to the original, alternative band that they once were, the Beastie Boys have produced an album that is insulting to their fans and the public at large. The Beastie Boys can do much
better than this.