From Beastie Boys to the White Stripes and more
Mark Twain once observed that it’s “better to be a young June-bug than an old bird of paradise.” That’s not far from the truth: young buggers like Kelly Clarkson get more media attention than they can handle while wilier, older birds are left preaching to the converted. And in hip-hop, that’s truer perhaps than anywhere else. All of which would bode poorly for BEASTIE BOYS if the shape-shifting trio were truly “hip-hop.” After all, Adam Yauch (it’s painful at this point to call him by his nom de rap, “MCA”) will be 42 in August, and he’s been proudly sporting a head of gray hair for a decade now. But Yauch and his fellow Beasties — Mike D (né Diamond) and Ad-Rock (a/k/a Adam Horovitz) — left hip-hop behind in its purest form a long time ago: their second album, the 1989 Dust Brothers–produced Paul’s Boutique (Capitol), did more to anticipate the cut-and-paste postmodern direction pop would take in the ’90s than any other ’80s album. Yeah, they were still rapping, and they’ve done so on and off ever since. But beginning with 1992’s Check Your Head (Capitol), they went back to the rock instruments they’d played as a hardcore band when they first came outta Vassar. Check Your Head’s hits were rap, and that made it easy to write off the keyboard-laced grooves they’d begun to explore with Money Mark. By ’96, however, there were enough of those instrumental tracks to fill an album, The In Sound from Way Out! It just wasn’t clear at the time how well those instrumental jams would serve the Beasties.
It’s been only three years since the Beasties last rapped, on 2004’s To the 5 Boroughs (Capitol), an album that came across as a final salute to old-school hip-hop. It was certainly the first Beasties disc that looked more to the past than to the future. And if the trio aren’t certain about the future, they’ve come up with a perfect stop-gap measure in The Mix-Up (Capitol), which abandons hip-hop altogether. Instead, Diamond (drums), Horovitz (guitar), and Yauch (bass) are joined by Money Mark and percussionist Alfredo Ortiz on a dozen wordless, pan-cultural funk tunes that draw on the same menu of influences that informed The In Sound from Way Out! but go down easier. These aren’t mere filler, even if the disc doesn’t quite make a full-on statement of purpose. The Booker T.–style organ/guitar interplay (“B for My Name”), eerie dub echoes (“Succo de Tangerina”), and throbbing bass and wacka-wacka guitar (“The Electric Worm”) are a playful way for the trio to keep their seats at the alt-rock table while they figure out their next move.
Perry Farrell hasn’t been at that table quite as long as the Beasties, but he got a late start. And he’s been resilient, if not quite as consistent as the Beasties. SATELLITE PARTY — his latest incarnation after leaving Jane’s Addiction for Porno for Pyros and then returning to Jane’s Addiction — has been billed as the pairing of Farrell and Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt. But it’s not quite that simple: on their debut, Ultra Payloaded (Columbia), Satellite Party are more like three and a half bands in one. On the two tracks that feature New Order bassist Peter Hook, Bettencourt does his best to rein in the guitar heroics. Hook’s bass may be the most recognizable in all of rock, and Bettencourt seems to take his cues from the Edge as he follows Hook’s effects-laden lead in “Wish upon a Dog Star” and the even heavier “Kinky.”
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