The Beastie Boys confound me. They rose to prominence with an outrageous image of frat-boy shenanigans defined with their big start Licensed to Ill. Rather than coast on that success or that image, they went a complete 180 with their next album Paul’s Botique, which was wicked smart and explored brand new sonic landscapes and is also one of the premier examples of how to sample well in hip-hop. So, where does the next album Check Your Head fit into all this. I really don’t know. It’s an album of maddening contradictions where the promise of awesome funk-hop/ rap rock are buried under needless illusions that this band are talented members of the hardcore punk scene. So far, no other album I’ve reviewed for this list has shown so much promise while doing so many things simultaneously wrong.
When you’re a group of white, Jewish rappers from Brooklyn, your skills on the mic had better be pretty damn good if you’re going to want anybody to take you seriously. On Paul’s Botique, the Beastie Boys did just that. Their rhymes were smart and funny and clever. I distinctly got the impression throughout this entire album that the same level of care and effort did not go into the crafting of Check Your Head. It gets even worse when the boys try their hands at hardcore punk. Perhaps I’m not qualified to judge their talent in this field. My punk listening habits pretty much exist solely in the Clash, Rancid, and Bad Religion so I don’t really know that much about the scene. But unintelligible screaming mixed over poorly played guitar and bass just don’t do it for me. You can be punk and still know how to make good music (which as I’ll get to in a second, these boys do). What’s incredibly frustrating about all of this is that there are times on the album when they are laying down awesome funky bass grooves, exploring cool and unique sonic landscapes, and actually laying down decent rhymes every now and then. Unfortunately, the album is so inconsistent in this process. It was like they tried way too hard to jam all sorts of different styles into one album when the styles weren’t meshing very well to begin with.
I can’t recommend this album as whole-heartedly as I have others. If you like the Beastie Boys, you should obviously listen to it because it shows another evolution in their sound, but odds are, if you’re a fan, you’ve already heard the album. There’s no other group that I can really say should listen to this album. The only other reason you should listen to it is if you have an academic interest in what popular music looked like in the early 1990′s. Otherwise, you can stay away.
Final Score: C