Beastie Boys return with a spark

Beastie Boys To The 5 BoroughsEMI-Capitol Entertainment

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

It is a little unsettling how many similarities the Beastie Boys share with the city they love.

Of course, the group’s most recent album, To The 5 Boroughs-their first offering in six years-bears an open-ended dedication to New York City in both title and content. And, similarly to the way the tragedies of Sept. 11 marked the end of an era for both the city and the nation, the group’s longtime hibernation seemed to mark the end of a professional, golden rhyme era too.

After all, wasn’t it the brashness of three New York white kids that made the Beastie Boys so incredible? Wasn’t their style all about youth and incredulity? Even if they wanted to, how could they bring the hot sauce at their age anyway?

The Beastie Boys anticipated this question and, in “An Open Letter to New York City,” address the falling of the Twin Towers as much as the fact that they’ve been in the music biz for nearly 20 years: “Dear New York, I know a lot has changed/ Two towers down, but you’re still in the game.”

Still in the game? No kidding. To The 5 Boroughs is a gyrating lyric bomb; a bare-bones political javelin aimed at everyone and everything from fake emcees (“I know you sitting pretty in the Hampty-Hamps, posing like like you’re rolling with the camp,” on “Shazam!”) to questionable governmental standards (“What we do now is future molding/ Columbine bowling/ childhood stolen/ we need a bit more gun controlling,” on “Right Here Right Now”).

There is no way to misinterpret the decidedly vocal anti-Bush tone taken by the album. More than a few times, the Beastie Boys turn their scrutinizing eyes on the president, and like any Iron Chef emcee, they don’t mince words-“We got a president we didn’t elect,” or “I think it’s time we impeach Tex,” for example.

The album is not, however, unpatriotic. In any way. Period. More than anything, To The 5 Boroughs is an open-ended letter New York City, and implicitly, the nation for which the the Beastie Boys have so much love.

To ensure that the political tone of the album didn’t come off as propagandized or forced, the Beastie Boys employed all of the tools in their unique hip-hop arsenal to make their message sound smooth as silk.

To The 5 Boroughs is the first Beastie Boys record to be done totally in-house-even though their startup, eclectic record label, Grand Royal, shut down in 2001-and the trio produced the entire record themselves, using only Mix Master Mike beats for propulsion.

The result of this new direction is a sound that is both minimalist and rife with crazy Nick-at-Nite samples. Boroughs is the Boys doing what they do best: talking s*** and having a blast.

Adam “Ad Rock” Horovitz says it himself: “I represent the stupid, that’s for sure/ You’re like, ‘Oh yeah Adam, real mature.” Or even better, off of the album’s first radio single, “Ch-Check it Out,” “I said ‘Doc, what’s my condition?’/ I’m a man that’s on a mission/ He said ‘son, you better listen, stuck in your ass is an electrician!”

One of the most welcome, and somewhat unexpected, surprises on the album is the fact that its taunting, snickering tone and harmonic rhyme-spitting is most similar to the group’s earlier work, harkening beats and movements more reminiscent of the late, great Ill Albums than the curious In Sound From Way Out or even Hello Nasty.

In the end, though, more than Bushies, fake rappers and the groups’ impending senior citizen discount combined, To The 5 Boroughs targets the Beastie Boys’ incessant nay-sayers for disproving.

As To The Five Boroughs ass-shakes its way into Beastie classicdom right next to Paul’s Boutique and License to Ill, the numbers will speak for themselves.

And as Boroughs is already moving off the shelf to the tune of 500,000 units, it looks like those numbers are going to have lots to say.

Or, in the words of the Beastie Boys, “Put a quarter in your ass cuz’ you played yourself.”

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