Even when all is right in the world, when the scourge of cancer isn’t darkening their self-contained doorstep, Beastie Boys have never been terribly prolific. The shortest stretch between studio albums over the past two-and-a-half decades was the two years and one month between the releases of Check Your Head and Ill Communication.
Beastie Boys albums arrive so infrequently, they’re treated like gala events. That’s a sword that cuts two ways of course, because when the album is terrific – like 1998’s Hello Nasty – all the praise it receives only enhances the party. But their weaker efforts – like 2004’s To the 5 Boroughs – are also universally lauded upon arrival, and once the thrill of having new Beastie Boys music begins to ebb, it can make you wonder if maybe you’re just missing something.
Is Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 gonna stick to your ribs after the issue of Rolling Stone with the inevitable four-star review has soaked up too much splashback in your bathroom and is resigned to the recycling bin? Well, yes. In a big way.
Exploring the convoluted path that led to the creation and release of Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 is ultimately pointless, as is speculation about whether its predecessor, Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 1 will ever see the light of day. You might as well wonder if Bill Cosby will ever switch gears and release Leonard, Pts. 1-5. I’ll admit to missing the proposed Pt.1 cover, which reminded me of the sleeve of the Jungle Brothers’ debut, and while Pt.2 is worryingly Technicolor, at least it steers well clear of the recent overwhelming indie fondness for blurry Lomographic snaps.
No, the only history it’s important to touch upon is what’s happened over the past week or so, when the blogosphere lit up with leaky Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 links which turned out to be the dreaded “clean” version of the album. In response, the Beastie Boys put up the real deal sweary album on their website as a stream, and with under a week to go before the release actually drops, that’s the only legit shit out there.
Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 represents a return to form in more ways than one. Yes, Ad-Rock, Mike D and MCA sound rejuvenated, both by their perspective on hip-hop and their undeniable interplay. But the album also shares a great many links to its predecessors, with a debt to the sample-laden Paul’s Boutique and the fuzzed-out vocals and live instrumentation of Check Your Head and Ill Communication. Make no mistake, this is a contemporary album by a contemporary Beastie Boys. Sure, they’re still hilarious and juvenile, which is great because I’m only a few years younger than them myself, and I’m a complete doofus. But even when they’re in classic call/response hip-hop territory, it’s still bakery fresh. Well, for the most part, anyway.
“Lee Majors Come Again” was initially released on vinyl for Record Store Day in 2010, a sample-heavy version with nods to Daft Punk’s “Da Funk”. On the album, the super disco breaks have been replaced with aggro hardcore riffage, which while an undeniable part of the Beastie DNA, isn’t necessarily the right sound for the song.
But really, that’s minor grousing. Because above all else, the Beastie Boys are music nerds, just like the rest of us. And if they want to throw a mess of different music into the mix, well take a look at your iPod and tell me you’re not doing the same damn thing.
Even when treading ground that might exploit mere mortals as charlatans, the Beasties are so natural and nonchalant that it comes off perfectly. Sometimes an artist will whip out special guest stars when there’s nothing left in the tank, when a gimmick beats coming up with an original idea or when their own name is no longer an ironclad guarantee that precious units will be moved. “Too Many Rappers”, with Nas, still sounds as good in its “new reactionaries version” as it did a year-and-a-half ago. And the contribution of Santigold, on the dub-inflected “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” is also vital without seeming forced or intrusive. In fact, it’s one of the album’s best cuts, no mean feat on a collection where just about everything feels as though it belongs.
For those who’ve grown weary of good intentions and political grandstanding and their inherent clumsy rhymes (To the 5 Boroughs’ “It Takes Time to Build”, even if you agree with the sentiment, had virtually no flow) entering the equation, the revelation that “Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament” is an instrumental should come as some relief.
Of course, a Beastie Boys album will ultimately hit or miss because of the Beasties themselves. This time around, the rhymes are tight, the beats are meaty and the vibes are good and plenty. It begins with recent single “Make Some Noise”, a three-and-a-half minute reminder of everything that made you love the Beastie Boys all those years ago, up to and including the pre-bridge cowbell, played by Will Ferrell in the celebrity-studded long form video, “Fight for Your Right (Revisited)”.
“Nonstop Disco Powerpack” recalls De La Soul’s “The Bizness” and its own album, Stakes is High, in delivery and design, while “Tadlock’s Glasses” is the sound of a thousand Casio keyboards mounting a revolution from beyond the grave.
I’ll leave the discussion about whether Messrs. Diamond, Horovitz and Yauch are too old or too out of touch to be taken seriously to someone else. I’d rather just shut up and enjoy this blast from the present and past without worrying about all that brow-furrowing bullshit. Good stuff, Beastie Boys. Shall we check back in three to five years, then?