Adrock, Mike D and MCA's first full-length recording since 1998's Hello
Nasty is a decent album and a bad Beastie Boys album. The bar is low these
days, and they can jump it with little to no exertion, but they have better
tracks in them than these 15 usually-less-than-three-minute joints in To the 5 Boroughs.
From the album title and Matteo Pericoli's skyline drawing of Manhattan on
the cover, you're looking forward to a tribute as only the Beastie Boys can
do it, to the city that not only raised them, but mirrors their ability to
be smart and scrappy and act the fool all at once. First track "Ch-Check It
Out" diverts you for a few welcome minutes with a get-the-kids-jumpin' beat
that any party this summer would be crazy not to play. But they shoot their
load with that first song, and the ones that follow wobble from
treaty he decided to neglect, and still the U.S. just wants to flex") to city affection ("Black, white, New York you make it happen").
The open note they write to New York City doesn't ring true if you're living
here. "I love everything about NYC" is a line that anyone who's not a
tourist needs to qualify pick something! New Yorkers know this city is many
different things to as many folks, and that when you try speaking to all of
it, you end up saying nothing. "Diversity unified, whoever you are" is a
line for Ed Koch trying to recruit Republican convention volunteers, not
these guys. MCA mentions that he's from Brooklyn every chance he gets, and
stoops to dropping Ellis Island in "An Open Letter to NYC" as though any
resident has been there since a school field trip. It sounds like the thing you'd
name about New York if you don't really remember it.
Despite this, in the bright spots the Beastie Boys' lyrical skills are strong
ever. Anyone that can work in Mr. Belvedere, Helen of Troy, Bacardi, Jabba
the Hutt, bon vivants, iced lattes and Wile E. Coyote (Why, you ask? Because
they can), as they do in "Triple Trouble," deserves respect. In "Hey Fuck
You," the problem is the dull soundtrack, but definitely not the lyrics,
which start with "You sold a few records but don't get slick 'cause you used
a corked bat to get those hits," end with "my style's impregnable like the
Hoover Dam" and insert "I've got billions and billions of rhymes to flex.
'Cause I've got more rhymes than Carl Sagan's got turtlenecks" right in
Part of the fun of the Beastie Boys is knowing that they're fucking with the
rhymes and you; another part is knowing that they give a fuck about what's
happening in the world. Those two things don't always work well together,
though, especially when they say something watered down and deliver it as
though they don't buy it either. A few years ago I remember reading a review
of the second season of HBO's “Six Feet Under” where the underwhelmed writer
said that the show was better than the majority of what else is out there,
"but that's the easy part." Sometimes the best lines are already written.