Though many of us will forever think of them as musically precocious teenage snotbags cracking wise and fighting for our right to party, the Beastie Boys have spent most of the new millennium facing their mortality. Adam Yauch/MCA, Mike Diamond/Mike D, and Adam Horovitz/Ad-Rock have been making music for four decades now; they range in age from 44 to 46, and their recent output has been seriously curtailed by Yauch’s battle with cancer. The fact is they have much more in common with U2 and R.E.M. at this point than they do with Odd Future, and like those arena rockers’ recent efforts, the Beasties give us a new album that effectively is Beasties-by-numbers, lovingly referencing much of what’s come before.
Yet, somehow, “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two” seems a hundred times more vital than obvious nostalgia moves such as “Collapse Into Now” or “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” and the reason is the Beasties are kicking hard against the woes of aging and they’re having a tremendous amount of fun doing it. “Oh, my God—just look at me/Grandpa been rapping since ’83” is the line most critics are quoting, but the one that really sums up these proceedings is “This is the way we run it down/We gettin’ high on the funky sound,” from the aptly titled “Nonstop Disco Powerpack.”
The Beastie Boys haven’t shown this much tangible joy in making an awesome noise since “Hello Nasty” in 1998, and the funkiest sounds permeating this, their eighth studio album, are the gloriously fat and freaky analog synthesizers that power the proceedings in a more remarkable way than anything since their indelible classic “Paul’s Boutique” in 1989. This is partly thanks to their veteran secret weapon, Keyboard Money Mark, and partly to a mix by electronic wizard Philippe Zdar, Parisian pal of Daft Punk and co-producer “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.” Their alien street sounds enhance everything from the vintage hardcore-punk move of “Lee Majors Come Again” to the dub-reggae “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” (which features a delightful cameo from Santigold), from the barebones funk of “OK” to the sample smorgasbord of “Crazy Ass S---,” and from the lounge-lizard chill-out Muzak of “Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament” to the old-school playground sounds of “Too Many Rappers” (which boasts the second best guest turn of the album, from Nas).
No, none of this is new. Nor do the Beasties break new ground with their playful torrents of words and off-kilter avalanche of cultural references, which pay tribute to everything from video cassettes to Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurants, with a stop in between to dis Crocs via a lyrical crib from Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” all of it a stone cold blast. “We come together like peanut butter and sandwiches,” the boys rap, and if that ain’t exactly Top Chef culinary invention, it’s nonetheless exactly what you want sometimes.
On the four-star scale: 3.5 STARS
STILL IN HEAVY ROTATION
Gorillaz, “The Fall” (Virgin)
Clive Tanaka, “Jet Set Siempre No. 1”
The Feelies, “Here Before” (Bar None)
TV on the Radio, “Nine Types of Light” (Interscope)
Lykke Li, “Wounded Rhymes” (Atlantic)
Screeching Weasel, “First World Manifesto” (Fat Wreck Chords)
Lupe Fiasco, “Lasers” (Atlantic)
Lucinda Williams, “Blessed” (Lost Highway)
Radiohead, “The King of Limbs” (self-released)
Drive-By Truckers, “Go-Go Boots” (ATO)
North Mississippi Allstars, “Keys to the Kingdom” (Songs of the South)
Smith Westerns, “Dye It Blonde” (Fat Possum)
The Decemberists, “The King Is Dead” (Capitol)