The nutty professors still have something to offer
Much like the squelchy, retro-cop-show-theme waddle that welcomes in [b]‘Make Some Noise’[/b] – the first song on the trio’s first rap release since 2004’s [b]‘To The 5 Boroughs’[/b] – talking about the [a]Beastie Boys[/a] in 2011 feels faintly ridiculous. Formed in 1979, the band have now existed for over three decades, which makes pondering their new record feel a bit like it might have done waxing lyrical about the Charleston after the advent of rock’n’roll.
After all that time, and eight studio releases in, it must be perplexing being a Beastie Boy. For one thing you’re not a boy, you’re a 45-year-old man wearing cargo shorts and shouting. For another, your connection to the zeitgeist – something the NYC group were so in tune with between 1994’s [b]‘Ill Communication’[/b] and 1998’s [b]‘Hello Nasty’[/b] it might as well have been the moniker of a guesting Germanic MC – is now so distant, it’s hard not to see the band like Greek mythology’s Tantalus, forever reaching for something beyond them. Only shouting at the grapes wearing cargo shorts, obviously.
Still, don’t tell the Prohibition, but as far as dances go, the Charleston is a good one – better than that strange thing the singer from [a]The Drums[/a] does, anyway. Likewise, perhaps illustrated by the poor Ivor Novello haul of your local maternity ward, youth has rarely been the sole prerequisite for the creation of good music. Be in no doubt, [b]‘Hot Sauce Committee Part Two’[/b] contains much that is good music: the ever-Herculean wordplay of Nas helps make [b]‘Too Many Rappers’[/b] one of the band’s most fun singles ever. Elsewhere, [b]‘Here’s A Little Something For Ya’[/b] contains the never unfunny couplet, “If you’re a little chilly/I’m gonna getcha a shawl-a”.
In fact, while veterans they may now be, there are times when the [a]Beastie Boys[/a]’ new record sounds so sprightly (‘Nonstop Disco Powerpack’), boisterous (‘Say It’) and playful (‘Tadlock’s Glasses’) – so diametrically opposed to the weary existential angst that defines the modern music era – that it’s a joy to listen to. Yet in doing so, it’s hard to shake the suspicion that the record’s appeal is largely nostalgic. Stylistically, its robo-rock rhythms and modulator-ed sloganeering owes a debt to the doofus party pop of the band’s 13-year-old [b]‘Hello Nasty’[/b]. Lyrically, it deals with such timely concerns as the career of the actor Lee Majors, star of cult ’70s TV hit The Six Million Dollar Man.
Nostalgia, as anyone who ever read the band’s early ’90s in-house magazine Grand Royal will be aware (sample features: [b]‘In Praise Of Bruce Lee’[/b], [b]‘Mulling Over The Mullet’[/b], Mike D interviews retired NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), has long been the band’s stock-in-trade. Yet [b]‘Hot Sauce Committee Part Two’[/b] begs the question: can you be nostalgic about nostalgia? Perhaps it’s the record’s delayed release – some tracks were recorded as long ago as 2008, while Adam [b]‘MCA’[/b] Yauch’s cancer hindered a scheduled September release last year – but [b]‘Hot Sauce Committee Part Two’[/b] sounds like a record out of step with the world.
This in itself isn’t a problem; such has been the band’s skill at constructing their own worlds from the debris of retro reference points it’s long formed part of their appeal. The problem is, where such a kingdom of kitsch was once enticing, it doesn’t feel as much so as the strange new ones created by, say, Odd Future, even MIA. The [a]Beastie Boys[/a]’ world is still a pretty fun place to visit, but it’s little different to doing wheelies on the wheelchairs down at your local retirement home. Similarly, [b]‘Hot Sauce Committee Part Two’[/b] is undoubtedly a good record. It’s just that in the Beasties’ case, merely being good doesn’t seem, well, y’know, good enough.