Saturday, November 26, 2022

CD Odyssey Disc 1602: Beastie Boys

It's the second straight review this week from the eighties! Do I love the eighties? When it comes to music, I like all the decades. Picking one just shows narrowness of thinking - something that almost prevented me from getting to know this next record.

Disc 1602 is…Paul’s Boutique

Artist: The Beastie Boys

Year of Release: 1989

What’s up with the Cover?  The titular clothing store (note – not a real place). This looks like the kind of place I would buy a pack of gum, but I doubt I’d find a shirt I liked.

On an unrelated note, I’ve always found it fascinating how a store can put its goods out on the sidewalk, knowing that 99.9% of people who walk by will not snatch, grab or shoplift anything. It just goes to prove that line from Rush’ “Second Nature”, “Folks are basically decent/Conventional wisdom would say.”

It’s true, and don’t let a few awful people make you forget all the decent ones.

How I Came To Know It: I was not into the Beastie Boys in 1989. Sure I thought “License to Ill” was solid, but it was mostly the hard rock samples and “Fight for Your Right to Party” that led me there. I was not a rap fan.

So this one came to me much later after I corrected the error of my ways and was digging through the Beastie Boys catalogue. I want to say late nineties, but the exact date is lost in the mists of time.

How It Stacks Up: I have (or had) eight Beastie Boys records. Of those, I put “Paul’s Boutique” in at #2, just narrowly behind “To the 5 Burroughs”.

Ratings: 5 stars

When I first heard “Hey Ladies,” the first single off Paul’s Boutique, I thought, “what nonsense is this?” Of course it was 1989 and I had a lot of growing up to do, musically speaking.

When I finally got over my anti-rap bias and started exploring the Beastie Boys, I bought a used copy of “Paul’s Boutique” and hoped for the best. But those first few listens were a bit too much. Samples were flying fast, and rhymes even faster, and the album was stretching itself in a dozen directions at once. I felt like the sonic equivalent of the victim of Track Four’s “Egg Man” getting egged at such a furious pace I could only duck, yolk-stained forearms showing like defensive wounds. I declared the album “OK, with a few good tracks.” Once again, I had a lot of growing up to do.

Like any great record, over the following years and decades “Paul’s Boutique” has gotten better on every listen. My gateway drug was “Shake Your Rump” with its mix of furious rock-style delivery, funk samples and that deep bass drop that gets right down into…well, into your rump.

From here it was a natural step to forgive “Hey, Ladies” and forgive myself for so seriously misjudging how exceptional a song this is. That opening drum beat and guitar sample is absolutely sick, and that’s before the boys even come in with their singular style, trading off line for line and never missing a cue. Plus, more cowbell in the best possible way.

Other bands making rap in 1989 have also won my heart, and my collection is now festooned with albums from that year by Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, Gang Starr, LL Cool J and many others. These bands all feature serious (and equally good) MC talent, but none of them are doing what the Beastie Boys are up to on “Paul’s Boutique”. The sheer volume of samples and styles is at first bewildering, and then intoxicating. At every listen there is something new to dig down to, some new easter egg of a sample to get hit with. The way to listen to “Paul’s Boutique” is to revel in that egging.

And as has been said often, this record would not be possible three years later, after 1991’s Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc., put an end to sampling for free. Because samples now cost a lot of money, hip hop artists are more likely to sample way less and when they do grab an entire hook, rather than five snippets of sound that are combined into something new like you’ll find on “Paul’s Boutique”.

I get the importance of copyright protection, but there were some serious unintended consequences to musical creativity.

But back in the golden age, when you could sample to your heart’s content, few bands did it with the artful eye of the Beasties. Outside of Public Enemy, they have no peers. The artistic freedom could’ve led a lesser band astray, but the Beasties capered and gamboled their way through an unfenced playground of options. The result is sheer unbridled brilliance.

Best tracks: all tracks

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