Gray hair, dated music, Early Bird dinner times and falling asleep by 9 pm all seem to come with age. For the Beastie Boys, however, age has brought anger.
To the 5 Boroughs dropped earlier this month - a long-awaited release since the trio's 1998 recording, Hello Nasty. It's an album only interspersed with polished Beastie-esque tracks. There's plenty of talk about getting drunk, light-hearted self-promotion and skillful rhymes of the absurd ("I like lettuce, tomato and muenster on rye / All this cheese gonna make me cry / Gorgonzola, provolone, don't even get me started on this microphone"). Unpredictable rhymes make them the Beasties, right? Well, there's plenty of that inner Beastie to go around on To the 5 Boroughs - especially on tracks like "Triple Trouble" and their first single, "Ch-Check it Out." And on this album, the three show their dexterity at the turntables and on the mixing boards - giving To the 5 Boroughs a more electronic and static-y feel than on the last few.
But, unlike Hello Nasty, Ill Communication and especially Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys take a serious political turn with the remainder of the album. On "Right Right Now Now," MCA (Adam Yauch) takes some clear digs at the U.S. strike on Iraq. Mike D. spouts that "George W's got nothin' on me." And on "An Open Letter to NYC," the Boys pledge their allegiance to the city and people of New York. While it's all cleverly done in the Beasties' trademark, fast-talking, low-jabbing style, it still feels awkward.
While I completely support the rallying of mainstream artists to the anti-war cause, it feels odd to hear it from the Beastie Boys. After all, these were the guys that got their start rapping about getting drunk, laid and expelled. I, personally, haven't had enough of those immature rants. I can get down to flows about cheese, intergalactic space battles and riding the subway - but politics? I just can't jive. The group has an obvious political agenda now that they didn't before, and it changes the meaning of what a Beastie Boys album has always been. But that doesn't mean that the album isn't still strong. Sure, there's plenty of frivolous Beastie rap on To the 5 Boroughs for longtime fans who fear change. But this time, they spice things up with heavy words of political dissatisfaction. Things change, and to the Beastie Boys' credit, they've been making the same kind of music for nearly 20 years. After all, these "boys" are nearly 40 years old now. Things can't always stay the same.