By Michael Henningsen
Beastie Boys To the 5 Boroughs (Capitol)
Frankly, the last two things I want from a Beastie Boys record are political proselytization and "Up with People"-style inspirational messages about everyone just getting along, working together and all that other utopian bullshit that's nice to think about, but about as removed from the reality of our current world-state as is possible. And, lyrically speaking, the Beastie's first new album in six years, disappointingly offers those two components and not much else, with the exception of an abundance of awkward "motherfucker" shoutouts and other out-of-place language that earned To the 5 Boroughs its parental advisory sticker.
Heralded as the Beastie's New York City opus, To the 5 Boroughs was hyped to be the record that defined the Big Apple for the upcoming generation of post-9-11, 21st century urbanites. Instead, it's an anti-Bush tirade that reveals little more about the new New York City than the fact that it survived a treacherous attack. Social commentary is, for the most part, eschewed in favor of juvenile rhymes like, "If you sell our CDs on Canal before we make 'em/Then we will have no other alternative but to serve you on a platter like Steak-umm." The picture Ad Rock, MCA and Mike D paint of New York City is, at best, a vague one for any listener who didn't happen to be born and raised in Brooklyn. And the anti-Bush sentiments amount to nothing more than preaching to the choir, much like Michael Moore's "mockumentary," Fahrenheit 9/11. After six years, one is entitled to the privilege of expecting more from a group as pioneering as the Beastie Boys.
Musically, however, To the 5 Boroughs is a return to classic urban hip hop form for the Beasties, whose last real rap triumph was 1994's Ill Communication, their pre-Buddhist preaching masterpiece. Mix Master Mike is back on staff, the samples are inventive and the break beats massive. There's a stripped-back feel to the record that is likely to entice longtime Beastie Boys' fans to shower the new platter with knee-jerk accolades that will no-doubt fade into the murky waters of patronizing patriotism.
Even so, the Beasties have succeeded in making a record that's almost entirely listenable, if lyrically forgettable and/or, cringe-inducing. I love it as much as I hate it, and I can't imagine not listening to it over and over again for the next few months at the very least.
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