[19 February 2009]
I was three years old when the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique was released. A listen shortly thereafter would’ve afforded me a horrifyingly schizophrenic view of music and probably would’ve scared me away for quite some time until the tame-by-comparison “Weird” Al Yankovic wooed me back to tunes with his rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Bad”, a song I heard almost daily on my way to grade school. In any case, my contextual knowledge of the Beastie Boys is somewhat limited, informed only retroactively and with the help of Wikipedia pages with lists of hip-hop records released around the same date.
Lured by the flash and dash of “Intergalactic”, a single almost a decade removed from the sampling mastery of Paul’s Boutique, I took a short-lived foray into the Beastie Boys’ catalog and found myself markedly unmoved, save for the single-laden breakout Licensed to Ill. And having an outward distaste for the lo-fi production of the group’s past, and a waning interest in their contemporary work, I soon rid myself of each other their records. They were undeniably snapped up by a smarter someone who found the collection in a used bin in a now-closed suburban Detroit record store.
But a decade after the Beastie Boys’ single that put them on my radar, the group has released the 20th anniversary edition of their most prestigious work, Paul’s Boutique. Trying to review this record on its original merits is fruitless and somewhat counterproductive; everyone now knows that it’s a certified classic. As a reissue though, Paul’s Boutique offers little in the way of extras that makes it unflappably worthwhile.
There are two noticeable differences on this 20th anniversary reissue: the separation of the “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” medley into its separate parts and the sonic pampering that miraculously makes the record sound less—if at all—dated. As someone who’s been known to decry the praise heaped upon reissues for their sonic advancements, the benefits that Paul’s Boutique yields through its remixing is palpable. Rarely will you come across a record that has been as obviously sharpened and improved on a reissue. The sonic inadequacies and lo-fi recording that a younger me had always found so jarring have been almost completely removed.
The other obvious change was the separation of the aforementioned “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” medley. While a nice gesture, it doesn’t really do too much for the listener. Sure, you can skip ahead to the freakishly bass-heavy-“‘A Milli’ be shamed” cut “Hello Brooklyn”, but that’s little reason to invest in a reissue. Pavement got it right with their spattering of re-releases by not tampering too much with the original while offering a mass of unreleased/previously unaccompanied material. Paul’s Boutique, however, feels lacking.
But for those that are similarly age-challenged and haven’t yet had the pleasure, this record is nearly essential to understanding much of today’s pop music—even if latter-day Beastie Boys have significantly fallen off. An album whose immediate descendants are more closely aligned with the likes of Beck and Madvillain than the more notable punchline fanatics like Eminem and Ludacris, Paul’s Boutique and its unparalleled sampling experiments are near Biblical in the world of pop and DJing. Featuring a fairly obvious thematic shift from the single-driven mindset of the group’s debut—Licensed to Ill features “Fight for Your Right”, “Girls”, “Brass Monkey”, and “No Sleep till Brooklyn”—Paul’s Boutique has a more subdued crassness but maintains the same storytelling (“Johnny Ryall”), call-and-response flows (“Hey Ladies”), and teenage shenanigans (“Egg Man”) that made the group so likeable and attractive at its outset. And while the Paul’s Boutique reissue might be a groundswell to Beastie strangers, fans of the group will find little more in this release than a compulsion to complete their collection.