Review Summary: The Beastie Boys throw out all the stops in hope for a return to form, but they still manage to miss the mark on a few occasions
In a recent discussion with a friend of mine who has somehow managed to avoid the Beastie Boys all her life, I was presented with a chance to sum up my feelings regarding the group in the simplest terms possible. My humble response to explain the very reason why I get a little excited every time a new album is announced was simple: they always bring something new to the table. Which, while true for the most part, also managed to succinctly sum up everyone’s thoughts regarding the group’s last proper release. To The 5 Boroughs
failed to re-ignite the spark in everyone’s favorite middle aged white rap crew simply because it failed to complete that task. Instead it relied heavily on everything around it, and in the transfer failed to pick up anything new or to spin it in a way that would ultimately pass it off as being anything Beastie-appropriate. Even The Mix Up
proved to be a step in the right direction, the absence of vocals not enough to stop us from moving to the funk jams and the nostalgic and retro overtones the boys used to employ so freely. So to kill the anticipation now, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2
generously ushers in a return to the unbridled electro funk collisions of yester-year. But instead of unveiling some dynamic new sound with which to entrance us, the boys (middle aged men now remember) instead opt for a little history lesson. Complete with cowbell.
As soon as the electro squelch of an organ signals the album’s beginning, Hot Sauce Committee Part (ah fu
hits you with a huge wave of nostalgia that transports you back to a time where you couldn’t walk anywhere without hearing ‘Intergalactic’. It’s a massive time warp and one that makes you truly respect the group who have spent three decades honing their skills to the point where this just becomes second nature for them. Everything about the track is just sticky, bass and microphone distortion seem to attack from every direction, while all the while that rekindled funk vibe just merrily bounces along. ‘Nonstop Disco Powerpack’ curtails the sonic overload just a touch, instead turning in to more of a vocal showcase. And even though the Beastie’s have never been the most auspicious or formidable of mc’s they’ve always managed to slip through by not only occasionally dropping verbal gold, but by infusing their words with an unmistakable measure of fun. Here are three men absolutely in love with language, and how words can be twisted and skewed. And while they fail to drop anything of considerable substance on ‘Nonstop…’ (or sadly, the whole album in fact), the track works because no studio trickery exists to mask the infectious nature of their rhyme schemes.
‘Say It’ plays out like a cross between early 90’s staples ‘Pass The Mic’ and ‘B-Boys Makin’ With The Freak Freak’, just dressed up in more gruesome attire. Sirens squeal and explode over the bass heavy interplay, with the boys adopting their now trademark rap-shout delivery, as much to be heard over the cacophony than anything else. ‘Funky Donkey’ sounds exactly like what you’d expect it to sound like, the usual vocal hi-jinks are in full effect playing host to a playful and bouncy funk heavy landscape. Both ‘Tadlock’s Glasses’ and ‘Long Burn The Fire’ are a chore to sift through though; while the former just seems like an excuse to add a little more length to the album’s run-time (even though the track clocks in a paltry 2:20) it just suffers from an abundance of bad ideas and ill-advised vocal cues. The latter survives by switching backgrounds every few bars, but it’s a shadow of the percussion heavy fare that made up Ill Communication
and Check Your Head
. ‘Lee Majors Come Again’ is a delight though, the gritty punk riffs playing host to the group stirring the magic pot and pulling out a style that belies their age. It shows how the group were able to become so incredibly successful while revealing one of the primary reasons for their failing star as of late. Choosing to step out of pop culture and actually start commenting on it again (the song serves as a loose ode to The Six Million Dollar Man), it shakes off the dust that’s congregated over the Beastie Boys name and sends them hurtling back to the stratosphere.
plays host to two big surprises, one we’ve seen before and the other something new for the group. The obvious reason why they’ve never had a proper guest appearance before is because it’s hard to see how any artist would sound standing next to the hyper-kinetic delivery of the group. The Beastie Boys are essentially the musical equivalent of a socially awkward kid deciding to dance with reckless abandon: limbs are flailing in all directions, and there’s no clear sense of rhythm. So it’s a testament to Nas how easily he’s managed to adopt himself into the crew’s dynamic, the sad reality is the re-tweaked version we get of ‘Too Many Rappers’ is just too top-heavy. Everything including the kitchen sink has been cranked up to the heavens, and all we’re left with is a jumble of clatter and bombast. Santigold’s inclusion on ‘Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win’ is an absolute delight, and quite possibly the highlight of the whole affair. Indebted to reggae in more ways than one, the track struts its way through a dubbed out wave of chill and swagger that wouldn’t sound out of place in a sea of palm trees. The major surprise though is how quickly Hot Sauce
ends and how little we’re given to serve as a climax. Aside from their inspired pairings with The Dust Brothers and Rick Rubin, the group have always littered their albums with filler and a tendency to sometimes outstay their welcome, but here it’s the opposite. As we near the end we’re treated to a sea of half-assed ideas and semi-realized tracks that were played out in a much richer context earlier in the album. ‘Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament’ would have been reasonably fulfilling had the Beastie’s last album not been the more suitable place for inclusion, and ‘Crazy Ass ***’ is a disappointment simply because a rather promising beat is cut down in its prime. The group have always had a habit of stretching their albums as far as possible by piling up the bottom end of their works with tracks that are essentially no more than glorified interludes, the main problem here is the pacing and terrible sequencing. Had the album been constructed with a more complimentary track ordering, this empty sensation that hits you at the conclusion of ‘The Lisa Lisa/Full Force Routine’ would simply become a non-issue.
ultimately plays out as the definitive sequel to Hello Nasty
, a futurist meshing of various permutations yet not as vitriolic as it would like to be. It’s actually something of a disappointment, because after only four tracks into the fray you start to get that feeling that accompanies all of their albums that aren’t named To The 5 Boroughs
, that notion that this might just be the best thing that’s going to happen to hip hop this year. The Beastie Boys fail, not because they’ve delivered faulty product, but because they’ve picked up old habits and failed to keep the momentum going the whole way through. Half on fire, and half burnt out, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2
is, in its finest moments nothing more than a great album. But it’s certainly no game changer.