reviews

Beastie Boys: Paul's Boutique 20th Anniversary Edition - Mojo

January 2009

 

This was pretty straightforward - a record I've listened to at least once every six months since it came out. The hardest part was trying to work out which of the many things I have to say about it should be left out.

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Beastie Boys
Paul's Boutique 20th Anniversary Edition
CAPITOL
*****

It seems fitting: an album denied its rightful place in hip hop history because it came out a little too late is celebrating its 20th birthday a few months early. The scheduling isn't a ruse to ensure the Beasties' kleptomaniac magnum opus doesn't again get overshadowed by De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising, which was its fate on release in the summer of 1989, but to avoid a clash with the band's eighth album, due in May.

Who would have dared make that bet 20 years ago: that the brattish Beasties, out of sight and mind since Ad-Rock's court appearance after a riot at a gig in Liverpool, in dispute with their label and estranged from their friend and producer, Rick Rubin, would still be making critically and commercially successful music deep into the 21st century? Adam Horowitz, Mike Diamond and Adam Yauch arguably owe their years of maverick inspiration to the reinvention they conjured here with the Los Angeles production team the Dust Brothers. Paul's Boutique allowed them to make the transition from wildly successful hip hop sideshow to a band who could do - and have - it all.

The record is no less bracing a listen today than it was in '89. Put together on samplers with tiny memories, small fragments of staggeringly disparate musics drop in then are snatched away abruptly; rhythms and melodies remain in focus as textures and sounds constantly shift. Yet the beats still stick to themes - Egg Man is made up of film samples, its backbone from Curtis Mayfield's Superfly while the colour and dynamism are lifted from Psycho and Jaws; the first half of The Sounds of Science is nicked from When I'm Sixty-Four while the second is a ferocious mash-up of the Sgt. Pepper reprise and The End.

The album's key, and most overlooked, ingredient - the three Beasties' dazzling vocal interplay, and some of the finest, funniest lyrics they ever came up with - also sounds scattershot and random at first but is as disciplined and direct as the backing tracks. Lyrics and music collide brilliantly as samples replace vocalists for punchlines, Johnny Cash and the Ramones finishing off thoughts in Hello Brooklyn and High Plains Drifter.

This edition has been tweaked rather than overhauled. There's no second disc, so no room for non-LP ephemera, or any legitimate release for the intriguing but inessential bootlegged demos. Aside from the sensitive remaster, the only new element is a DVD-style commentary from the trio, available to download from their website, where they talk about and around the record while it plays in the background. But Paul's Boutique hardly needs additional evidence to prove its case: it remains one of the greatest albums of its - or any other - age.

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