Beastie Boys: To The 5 Boroughs

Beastie Boys
To The 5 Boroughs
Capitol

The endearingly obnoxious masters of dropping science are back, six years after their dance music-doused hip-hop masterpiece, Hello Nasty. Since then, though, the enduring Brooklynites have been in a slump, from the fall of the Beastie-led Tibetan Freedom concerts to the auction of the entire Grand Royal catalog. Unfortunately, the B-Boys' third or fifth comeback album isn't quite the shot in the arm the group needs to keep up that resilience for which fans love them. Lacking the je ne sais quoi of the B-Boys' past albums, To The 5 Boroughs contains three of the four essential ingredients that make up the B-Boys' formula: comedy, politics, and civic pride. What's missing is the forward-thinking beats. Instead, the Beasties passionately but unsuccessfully try to take listeners back to the days when the Sugarhill Gang (sampled on the break-dance friendly "Triple Trouble") burst out of ghetto blasters and Marley Marl was in control. Layered in the mix is some sparse digital love reminiscent of old-school electro, but there's no Dust Brothers or Mario Caldato Jr. or Rick Rubin here, and their absence is sorely felt. The beats, entirely produced by the group, are a homogenous, harsh-on-the-ears herd without the range of their classic '80s models or of earlier Beasties albums such as the genre expanding Nasty or the mind-bendingly dense Paul's Boutique.

Boroughs is most successful as a paean to New York. The cover's line drawing of the Gotham skyline (Towers included) nicely announces the album's theme. What's inside is similarly wrapped in a New York-centric vibe thicker than the muck that precipitates from the city's skyscrapers. The album peaks with the heartfelt, up-with-people tribute "Open Letter to New York," which would have made a better first single than "Ch-Check It Out" (that horn stab is enough to drive anyone nuts).

Since Boroughs is the first Beasties release since the September 11 attacks, it inspires some hardy anti-Bush couplets as well. On the sample-savvy "Time to Build," MCA--whose voice box sounds like it's bleeding more profusely than ever--raps, "We've got a president we didn't elect/the Kyoto treaty he decided to neglect/and still the U.S. just wants to flex.../maybe it's time we impeach Tex." Many of the remaining political references are "Bush sucks" fluff. While the B-Boys' antic wit is in top form on "Triple Trouble" (which draws on an ever-famous "Rappers Delight" sample, as if we needed another rendition) and again on "Hey Fuck You" (where Ad-Rock's versatile voice shines), their rhyming repeatedly sides on the Dr. Seuss-ish tip and aren't as irresistibly goofy anymore. On "Rhyme the Rhyme Well" Mike D. spurts out the hook: "Well I'm Mike D with a story to tell/And when I rock the crowd the crowd we all yell/And when I get the feeling I feel the feel swell/'Cause when I start to rhyme well I rhyme the rhyme well." Regrettably, pushing the stop button mid-disc is sort of like snatching the mic away from your tipsy Grandma at the bar mitzvah. As L.L. mused, "Don't call it a comeback."

 
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