Skull & Bones

6/10 for the rapz, 7/10 for the riffs...

Don’t be afraid, be [I]aware[/I] – The Hill are back. Back with more pictures of skulls and marijuana leaves. Back with the appearance of particularly pissed-off doormen. Back with their fifth album, ‘Skull & Bones’ (it’s a symbol of warning, like the Jolly Roger, but somehow, given Sen Dog‘s recently aired views on homosexuality (check the dubious ‘A Man’ on here, too), you suspect ‘Jolly Roger’ is the last thing they’d call their comeback record), which picks up, musically, from where the groggy metal/rap milange of 1998’s ‘Cypress Hill IV’ left off. Lyrically? Well, they’re Cypress Hill, from Los Angeles, they’re still pretty tough and they’re back, seems to be the general message.

It’s business as usual, basically. And business, inevitably, is the operative word with The Hill. They’ve cornered the Spanish-speaking market (with ‘Los Grandes Ixitos En Espaqol’ – or ‘The Greatest Hits In Spanish’, no less), they’ve got the clothing line, and at some point during the last year Muggs, B-Real and Sen Dog took a stock check and realised that, sure, they’ve got the universal hip-hop market covered as well (12 million LP sales and counting), but being really bad motherf—ers, they wanted more. “Let’s buy into the funk-metal dollar,” they said, as shares in Limp Bizkit and Korn rocketed skywards. So the funk-metal rap-rock bandwagon duly screeched to a halt on Cypress Hill‘s er, hill, and aboard they swaggered.

What we’re being offered on ‘Skull & Bones’ is two versions of Cypress Hill. They do hip-hop (tracks one-11) and they do funk-metal rawk (12-17): it’s a double-album but it’s hardly a progression. Because Cypress Hill don’t progress as such, they evolve slowly, Darwin-style, gradually assimilating the beneficial characteristics of their peers (Timbaland-like tikki-tik production on the stand-out ‘What U Want From Me’, Rage-Xeroxed guitar terror on ‘Get Out Of My Head’) while always maintaining their own identity (tedious spliff politics, B-Real‘s annoying nasal whine, portentous ‘street’ diktat).

And there’s the problem. For marvellous as it is to have new Cypress Hill material, it’s really very much like the old Cypress Hill material. Yes, Eminem pops up on ‘(Rap) Superstar’ to show the world that these veritable dinosaurs of hip-hop (aged 30) know what’s going down, but for more direct and effective thrills, skip to ‘(Rock) Superstar’, a track which says exactly the same thing (false idols, fake fame: bad but that’s life) yet says it in a more suitable language (hard, attitude-hungry metal).

In fact, that’s representative of ‘Skull & Bones’ as a whole. Mostly, it’s the same old same old Cypress Hill hip-hop schtick, recorded as though through a fug of weed smoke, the production skills straight outta 1996. But when they dig deep in their recently acquired metal bag they seem genuinely excited by the gonzoid riffage and rapped aggression they pull out. Sure, it sounds a lot like the Bizkit, but it’s by Cypress Hill and is therefore credible.

All of which means that for Cypress Hill, rock is the new rap. Everyone else, meanwhile, is several years ahead. for the rapz, for the riffz.