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Beastie Boys

Hot Sauce Committee Part Two

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Label: Capitol

Few legacies in music approach the longevity and universal acclaim of the Beastie Boys. A reputation of wonderful contradiction, their discography is among the most prolifically eclectic in any genre, a trait only rivaled by how sporadically their work is released. In terms of new material, the past decade has only given us a critically-panned anti-war single (2003’s dreadful “In a World Gone Mad”), an all-instrumental release (2007’s Grammy-winning The Mix-Up) and only one album of actual rapping in 2004’s To the 5 Boroughs. The Beasties began gaining steam again at the end of the Aughts with digitally remastered re-releases of their celebrated Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head, Ill Communication and Hello Nasty. While this did catapult the crew back into our collective conscious, giving them solid momentum into the planned release of Hot Sauce Committee, Pt 1, the album was indefinitely shelved due to member Adam “MCA” Yauch’s salivary gland cancer. Two years later, the Boys are back, bypassing the original to go straight to the sequel, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two.

Like any Beastie resurgence, the sheer event of having them back is accompanied by something momentous warranting a welcome with open arms. This time we get the celebrity-studded short film “Fight for Your Right Revisited,” a cross-generational cameo cornucopia featuring everyone from Elijah Wood and Danny McBride to Susan Sarandon and Ted Danson. Rightfully cheered, it captures the genuine lunacy that promised the Beasties’ new album would be as relevant and irreverent as ever. While a lot of the genuine fun and fan service of “Make Some Noise” can be found on Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, the sheer load of it keeps an otherwise good album from reaching the group’s usual greatness.

Since their 1986 debut, the trio’s abilities as actual MCs have been often contested and subsequently misunderstood. The best way to appreciate what Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D do behind a mic is to realize that their aims are largely to be an enormous web of pop culture capturing everything up until when their verses are recorded and assembled to entertain the listener as much as they’re entertaining themselves. It’s akin to the puppets on Mystery Science Theater 3000 how the Boys invoke an impressive array of references to send up or strike down whatever their subject matter calls for. Compared to the last time we heard them flex their verbal prowess on To the 5 Boroughs, things are mostly better. A-Rock remains sharp as ever ( “Can’t do me nothin’, can’t tell me nada/ Don’t quote me now because I’m doing the lambada” ), MCA has become fully re-energized and sounds the best he has in 13 years ( “I don’t wear crocs and I don’t wear sandals/ The pump don’t work because the vandals took the handles,” a line that’s likely the only time Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” ever actually influenced a rap recording) and Mike D. wavers from good ( “Running wild like rats in the Taco Bell” ) to forced ( “Mike Dino – the Jewish Brad Pitt” ), but overall it should be giving loyal Beastie listeners exactly what they want to hear. Or is it?

A chief criticism of To the 5 Boroughs was how it was so transparently a product of the first Bush term. While it did house the madcap fun of “Ch-Check It Out” and “Triple Trouble,” it was balanced by songs like “Right Right Now Now” which shows the crew’s combined consciousness, allowing a certain leeway for their eccentric silliness. Even among those of us who shared their sentiment bemoaning the country’s situation, lyrics complaining about “a president we didn’t elect” seemed to drag. While their sudden political awareness did bring a welcome diversity after their music in the ’90s, the common conception was their unfiltered reactionary mentalities were now somewhat overbearing. True as that may be, the complete absence of such subjects on Hot Sauce is an even worse blow, replacing the wackiness on top of seriousness with the shaky foundation of wackiness on top of more wackiness, diluting the effect of moments that would otherwise be quite funny.

The production seems to stem from this wishlist catering as well. Remember in seventh grade when you didn’t have the patience for the instrumentals on Check Your Head and just wanted to hear the Beasties rap over them? A few songs on here show why that would have been a bad idea. While the Boys are largely backed by enjoyable distorted drums and synths that crunch, at times the beats and vocals tend to get in each others’ way. “Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament,” the album’s sole instrumental track, is one of the record’s most inspired moments, offering a glimpse into what we could be enjoying had more restraint been used.

That’s not to say Hot Sauce Committee Part Two isn’t bubbling with bountiful Beastie goodness. There’s plenty of fun to be had, including skits like “The Bill Harper Collection” and “The Larry Routine” that show the crew are second to none for quirky fun. But, again, this insular mentality does almost as much harm as good. From the awkwardness of a creatively-bankrupt Nas on “Too Many Rappers” to the bizarre left-field assist from Santigold on “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win,” inviting outsiders into their world becomes unsatisfying all around. Conversely, the group’s recent work with contemporary outside producers (such as Just Blaze’s excellent “Ch-Check It Out” remix or their DJ Green Lantern mixtape New York State of Mind) had revitalized their performances and really given them a new refreshing sound. Still, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two is a worthy entry into the Beastie canon. While not quite as groundbreaking as its predecessors, it does show the three boys from Brooklyn still have what it takes to get the party moving and gives hope that their next rap outing will be even better, whenever in the next decade that may be.

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