Apr 29


By Tyler Blue (Website | Twitter)

We can feel the planetary shift coming on. From weather to war to welfare, we can sense the world imploding and only hope to be part of its reinvention. Evolution is a powerful word and it can apply to so many different forms of life. Humans have evolved in synch with the music created around them. All of the great albums of music history serve as reflections of their generation on one level or another. I’m not implying the Beastie Boys’ Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 deserves consideration in this category…but it might. Their new album puts on a clinic in exploring virgin terrain while carrying a retro torch.
Depending on the listener’s state of mind, “Sauce” could be perceived as an expression of genius containing the secret to life or an overproduced piece of crap. After my maiden spin on headphones, I leaned towards the latter. Two more listens later and I was drinking the Kool Aid. Some of us have gathered a few gray hairs over the last seven years since the Beastie Boys’ last hip hop offering - the criminally underrated To the 5 Boroughs. 2007’s all instrumental The Mix Up was an aberration. Going strong since the mid-80s, the band was injected with a rare dose of mortality when MCA - AKA Adam Yauch - was faced with a bout of throat cancer. On the other side with a clean bill of health, this album is delivered anxiously, with a “strike hard at the brink of the apocalypse” sort of focus. Although, at points it puts on the guise of a half-baked lark which could come unraveled like a ball of yarn.

Following the model of previous albums, the first single - in this case the album’s first song - “Make Some Noise” - is its obvious alpha dog. Continuing where they left off with 1994’s Ill Communication, the Beasties establish a dirty precedent with layers of grit coated over the mix. We are instantly vaulted into a familiar comfort zone as this track kicks open the back door to reveal a party we thought ended a long time ago. It’s irresistible as ever but this time everyone’s wearing styley new clothes. “Sauce’s” rough-around-the-edges aesthetic hits its zenith on “Say It” which would be a parent’s nightmare blasting out of their kid’s room. A potential polarizer like “The Crunge” on Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, one has to wade through the sonic soup to embrace the primal stomp under the surface.

We find out really quick that we’ve got a dance album on our hands here. Practically every song is speared through a piercing groove axis like a flaming pineapple on a skewer. This is the kind of art that wins airtime because people love it and their friends will think they’re cool for putting it on. A million MCs have come and gone while this middle-aged triumvirate transcend the traditional expectations of coolness. Shooting forth like a laser, “OK” is a snapshot of the future in the present. The boys had to be high-fiving in the studio when they nailed this nasty track.

Two prominent guest spots set “Sauce” apart from previous Beasties’ work. Nas doesn’t exactly provide fireworks but he plays well with others on “Too Many Rappers.” It’s here the Boys really get on a roll, going full monty with this industrial funk-march assault. For all the fresh beats, the lyrics don’t give us much to care about. Sure it’s juvenile to still be dissing other MCs 25 years later but who’s gonna complain? Nas weaves his verses seamlessly like a fourth member of the band.

On first listen of “Don’t Play No Game that I Can’t Win” - a showcase for singer Santigold - it didn’t sound like anything special. By the third spin, it had morphed into a seductive, fire-breathing dragon. Moving along at a hypnotic clip, it reveals layers of intrigue. The Beasties have never done anything like this reggae trip-hop track before. It’s hard to know what they want us to get out of it from a lyrical standpoint, but it still manages to come across as profound.

Belying his sandpaper pipes, MCA has long been the group’s Zen-loving Bodhisattva Back with a new lease on life, he strikes with a vengeance on “Long Burn the Fire.” Unleashing searing rhymes, his lyrical swagger is evident like a vampire out for a snack on a foggy bayou night. As on Ill Communication, the band doesn’t seem to care whether we can understand what the hell they’re saying throughout the album as the details are obscured behind layers of noise or lack of annunciation. “Sauce” is almost like one of Seurat’s pointillism paintings - we’re meant to look at the big picture rather than a single dot.

‘Sauce’ is clearly on a mission to ignite dance floors and several songs seem tailor-made for club remixes. “Funky Donkey” is a playful funk vamp with Mike D - the group’s Peter Pan - still partying like it’s 1986. For those who don’t dig his more serious side on “5 Burroughs,” he’s back to his old comic book self; spitting out a steady stream of elementary similes. We wonder what hit us as he does a fly-by, probably still wearing that helicopter beanie, on the 30-second filler of “The Larry Routine.”

While this is undoubtedly a new direction for the Boys, they don’t hesitate to dip into their familiar quiver of arrows. We know they love punking out when the opportunity presents and here it is with “Lee Majors Come Again.” This one is more mainstream and melodic than usual, playing like a potential MTV hit. But is that really Ad Rock resorting to a mention of their beloved “kung-fu grip?” When we can hear what these guys are saying, it tends to come across about as deep as an episode of “Gossip Girl.” On “Here’s a Little Something for Ya” (these songs titles are either cliché or bizarre), we’re supposed to be moved by, “Get ready, get set, place your bet.” But on Planet Beastie, the listener is easily distracted from lame lyrics by the window dressing of heavy beats and synth drops.

After we get our dose of punk, the next nugget comes in the Beasties-specific genre of atmospheric, instrumental funk. Tied up in a bow with an irresistible name - “Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament” - the trio delivers an instant classic. Sounding not unlike Phish, they put on their jamband hat while floating through a jungle swamp. You don’t want this track to end. It’s hard to tell, but it seems like they flaunt their instrumental IQ more than usual on “Sauce.” Satisfying as it this condiment may be, one would think the band could have mustered up a little more substance in the studio with seven years to stew. The album ends abruptly with two songs which are respectively one-minute, fifty-six seconds and forty-nine seconds long. Instead of dwelling on what could have been, we get up, press play and start over again. “Make Some Noise” is a track which isn’t getting old anytime soon.