November 30, 2011

Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (July 25, 1989)

On this, the final day of the stunt month, I've decided to abandon my own rules and write about the second album from the Beastie Boys, the monumental Paul's Boutique.  A lot of you two have been waiting around for this write-up ever since Licensed To Ill hit the site.  Why, you could even go so far as to say that this entire stunt month was manufactured as an excuse for me to finally get around to writing about the fucking album. Now if only I would do the same for some of the other artists who have been ignored on this blog, right?

Anyway, Paul's Boutique.  After the success of their debut (rap) album Licensed To Ill, MCA, Ad Rock, and Mike D. grew restless in their Def Jam Records label home, as Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons were trying to force them to record a quickie Licensed To Ill 2 follow-up, which the Beasties had zero interest in doing.  Instead, they found a way out of their record deal, signing up instead with Capitol Records (the home of Miilkbone), who promised them endless creative freedom as long as they actually managed to move units.  In response, the Beastie Boys immediately moved out West and started doing as many drugs as humanly possible.  (They were obviously aware that they pissed off their former Def Jam gods, who immediately sicced their other (mostly) white rap group 3rd Bass on them; however, I believe they were too stoned to care all that much at the time.)

Paul's Boutique grew out of a chance meeting with production team The Dust Brothers, named as such not because of how untidy they kept their studio.  The team had produced several instrumentals that they intended to morph into club-ready dance tracks, but the Beasties convinced them to give up the beats (and help create a few more) in favor of their new album.  Aside from their rampant drug abuse, the Dust Brothers were also known at the time for their method of using eighty thousand motherfucking samples in their songs, stitching everything together to create Frankentracks that actually sounded like original compositions.  (Part of the reason why it took me so long to get to this write-up is because of my delusional attempt to piece this review together out of sentences taken from other HHID write-ups, which proved both impossible and really fucking stupid, although it sounds funny.)

Paul's Boutique was released in 1989, three years after Licensed To Ill, and it immediately sold zero copies.  Although it earned a bit of critical acclaim, the use of multiple samples (I've joked in the past that Paul's Boutique samples every single song ever recorded, both before and since 1989, and I'm only half-wrong) proved to be too challenging for listeners, so the Beastie Boys found their second album (as a rap group; this was their third full-length project overall) collecting dust (no pun intended) on store shelves.  However, a funny thing happened on the way to their next project: people finally caught the fuck on.  Today, Paul's Boutique is praised as an experimental masterpiece that doesn't alienate the hip hop audience who grew up on Licensed To Ill: in fact, it was ultimately successful in expanding their fanbase beyond the rap world, which helps explain why they remain one of the most beloved hip hop groups in the genre today.

Paul's Boutique is one of my wife's favorite albums of all time; she's also been wondering why it's taken me forever to write about it, just for your information.  When we first met, she loaned me her copy and insisted I listen to it from start to finish.  (At the time, I hadn't ever listened to it before: my experience with the Beastie Boys started with Hello Nasty for some weird reason, and I worked my way both backward and forward from there.)  After absorbing the project in full (many many times), I figured out one thing: that girl had amazing fucking taste in music.  It would be ridiculous for me to claim that I married her just because of her musical taste, but...

Seems to take forever to pop up in your speakers, so by the time you realize that this is just a corny trifle of a rap album intro (unofficially, anyway), it's already fucking over.

I've always believed that this song would have made a better intro to Paul's Boutique, but maybe I'm the only one who feels that way.  This track could still rock a house party at the drop of a hat, which is just a testament to both the playful rhymes from all three Beasties and to how the Dust Brothers managed to translate a shitload of samples into a timeless sound.  There's a Madlib remix of this song that I first heard on The Criterion Collection's Beastie Boys Video Anthology that rocks even fucking harder in an entirely different way, for those of you two who are into that sort of thing.

The Boys dedicate an entire track to Johnny Ryall, the "king of the homeless", and their otherwise playful and contagious tendency to pass the mic back and forth, sometimes mid-word, makes for an interesting juxtaposition to what should be depressing-as-fuck subject matter.  The Dust Brothers provide an instrumental that sounds as though it's going to pass out at any moment, with the drum hits acting as the paddles that shock its heart into pumping for just a little bit longer.  It is odd that a rap song written about a homeless guy would inadvertently portray the same dude as an alcoholic superhero, but this is a Beastie Boys song, after all, and an entertaining one at that.  So there you go.

This was the song my wife was most excited for me to hear when she found out that I hadn't yet listened to Paul's Boutique.  The overall vibe is playful, but kind of bleak, what with the overall violent theme and the Curtis Mayfield "Superfly" sample laid throughout, making everything sound funkier by default.  Proof positive that the Beasties had fun in the studio: why else would they devote an entire song to throwing eggs at motherfuckers, son?

I've never cared for this track.  The outlaw-esque tale the Boys weave (without resorting to cliches borrowed from Westerns: in fact, the film Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is name-dropped at one point) is okay, but the instrumental has always sounded incomplete to me.  Everyone involved with this track has done much better work.  Spoiler alert: "High Plains Drifter" is the only real misstep on Paul's Boutique.  So you have that to look forward to.

The Beastie Boys drop science and "k-nowledge" over a subdued Dust Brothers least at first, before everything switches up in favor of a dope-as-fuck beat that the trio absolutely murder.  Approximately nine thousand and two samples are thrown into every second of this song, including several Beatles songs that they probably just now found out about while reading this, so whoops!  You're welcome, lawyers for the Fab Four!  Anyway, this song is the fucking tits.

The song as a whole is longer than what the title would suggest, but Mike D., MCA, and Ad Rock rhyme for roughly three minutes combined, so I suppose it isn't an outright lie.  Production-wise, the brothers Dust lend our hosts a simplistic drum loop with some subtle scratching thrown in for good measure, while each Boy performs their own verse (without assistance from the other group members!  Shocker!), which has absolutely no connection to the last.  There's no chorus, no overall theme, and no real structure to speak of, just three hot verses that turn "3-Minute Rule" into one of the most obvious actual "hip hop" songs on Paul's Boutique.  "Simplistic" isn't always a criticism, folks: this track still chugs away just fine, twenty-two years removed from its release date.

Probably the song most people marginally familiar with Paul's Boutique will remember, as "Hey Ladies" was the first single from the project.  It exhibited a sound that was worlds away from the rock-tinged loops prevalent on Licensed To Ill, and yet shares its sensibilities with that earlier album thanks to the Beasties and their juvenile (and catchy) rhymes.  Hardly what you would call radio-friendly, and yet you wouldn't ever want to kick it out of bed.

A short, goofy, banjo-driven interlude.  Which makes the transition into the next track much more jarring than it needed to be.

Easily my favorite song on Paul's BoutiqueI fucking love this song.  Everything about it, from the violent lyrics, the guitar-driven beat, and even the video, which features a scene where the Boys pass around a bong in the backseat of a limo (I may be remembering this incorrectly), is fucking perfect.  References to A Clockwork Orange abound, which make complete sense when you listen to this track, unlike hearing the entirety of Cage's Movies For The Blind.  This is one of the very best tracks the Beasties have ever made.  Luckily for the trio, this wasn't the last good song they ever recorded.  It sounds much darker than the rest of the project, but it's still awesome in its own way.  Nice!

This track is all over the place, thanks to the Beasties and their undoubtedly-recorded-under-the-influence verses,  The Dust Brothers come through in the clutch, though, lacing the instrumental (pun probably intended) with a nice fucking melody that helps move you along to the next track.  Kind of slower-paced, a bit too slow for my liking, but it acts as a reprieve after getting your shit kicked in by "Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun", so.

Aside from the use of the phrase hinted at in the title, which ranks among the most overused ideas in music history, this track is funky-as-hell diversion from the darkness prevalent on the previous two tracks.  Most of the lines make very little sense ("You're all messed up like pasta primavera!"), but the playful way in which they are delivered is fucking contagious.  But again, that hook hurts the track more than it helps: I'm just waiting to hear several rap songs interpret the saying "you get what you pay for" in their own respective special ways.

I had written earlier that "High Plains Drifter" is the only real misstep on Paul's Boutique.  That's still true, but "Shadrach", also released as a single for some ungodly reason, never grew on me.  There isn't anything technically wrong with the song itself, but I never really cared for the beat, which throws a lot of shit at the wall and uses everything that didn't stick, including an annoying-as-shit female vocal sample during what counts as the hook.  I'm sure that I'll hear a lot of shit for this in the comments, but I personally don't like this track.  But it does fit into the overall sound Paul's Boutique is going for, so that was nice.

A brief interlude.

The final track on Paul's Boutique consists of nine separate compositions which serve as a ridiculous, pretentious, and entertaining-as-shit outro.


Given our hosts's penchant to pass off the mic after spitting a single bar, this quick mockery of a song, which sounds like a leftover from Licensed To Ill, ends up literally sounding like the three Beasties are getting ready to fuck the same girl.  Which is the problem with that type of format.  Let that be a lesson to all you new crews out there.  Anyway, this shit was bland as shit, so let's move on.

Ad Rock and MCA spend all of their allotted time trying to convince Mike D. to get on the microphone, but their ploy doesn't really work, since Diamond doesn't actually appear on here (as a rapper, anyway).  The simplistic beat, combining drum hits with beatboxing, gives this brief song an old-school flavor that sounded like everything else back in 1989 but comes across as downright fucking refreshing today.  Not bad.

This final track on Paul's Boutique is filled with half-thought out ideas that could never be stretched into full-on songs.  "Stop That Train" is an ideal example of this, as the Beasties give the listener two verses based around riding the train around New York City.  I liked this, but I wasn't in like with it.

Somehow the guys fit three full verses into "A Year And A Day", which features distorted vocals that don't really add to the listening experience.  That Isley Brothers sample sure does get a fucking workout, though: I'm left wondering why nobody has ever used "That Lady, Pt. 1 & 2" in a similar fashion since.  It's been twenty-two years, people!  It's okay to adopt that idea!

Jay-Z fans will recognize this shit right away, as "Hello Brooklyn" laid the foundation for American Gangster's "Hello Brooklyn 2.0".  This bass-heavy affair actually fits these guys much better than Hova and (shudder) Lil Wayne: even though you will at no point buy that the Beastie Boys are thugs, the very end, which segues into a Johnny Cash vocal sample, is chilling nonetheless.

There's really not all that much to this, unless you're a fan of the Chemical Brothers song "Block Rockin' Beats" and you're interested in hearing that Crusaders "The Well's Gone Dry" sample being used in a slightly different manner.

A quick trifle that doesn't exactly have "more flavor than Fruit Stripe Gum", but still sounds pretty goofy today.  I actually liked a lot of the individual lines on here, especially MCA's dismissal of the girl that spilled her wine "on my lyrics as you wasted my time".  He actually comes off as a bit harsh, which is commendable in and of itself.

Mike D. finally takes the bait laid for him on "Get On The Mic", tackling this quickie one-verse wonder for dolo, sounding pretty damn good in the process.  It's enough to make you wish that the trio would occasionally let each other handle their own verses during the songs, but that wouldn't be the Beastie way.  I don't think I would want to hear Mike Diamond for sixty-plus minutes rapping all by his lonesome, but this?  This was nice.

(I) A.W.O.L.
DJ Hurricane helps the Beasties end Paul's Boutique with this simulation of a live show, on which their lone "verse" consists of the same rhetorical question ("What'cha gonna do?") repeated ad nauseum, all while the fake crowd screams their heads off.  A nice way to go out, I suppose.

"A.W.O.L." then leads into an unlabeled reprise of "To All The Girls", thereby ending our evening.  (Side note: the twenty-year anniversary reissue of Paul's Boutique inexplicably separates each "song" onto its own audio track, making it appear as though the re-release contains twenty-three tracks to the original's fifteen.  Don't be fooled.)

FINAL THOUGHTS:  Paul's Boutique is a masterpiece that somehow sounds even better now than it did when I first listened to it.  The Beastie Boys reinvented themselves for a second time on this project, and the end result not only stands up to the test of time, it's also one of the finest hip hop music releases in motherfucking history.  The production by the Dust Brothers precludes their work with Beck and (the hell?) Hanson, with their sample-heavy techniques bringing out the best of MCA, Ad Rock, and Mike D.  Lyrically, these guys will never win any awards, but their nerdy, reference-heavy bars and their knack for making everything sound playful is contagious, even when they dive into some of the more violent tracks on Paul's Boutique.  I don't believe that there's much more to be said, and not just because this means the stunt month is finally over: Paul's Boutique is just really.  Fucking.  Good.  So there. 

BEST TRACKS:  "Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun"; "Hey Ladies"; "Shake Your Rump"; "3-Minute Rule"; "Egg Man"; "Johnny Ryall"; "B-Boy Bouillabaisse"; "The Sounds Of Science"...oh, fuck it, the majority of the album





    Damn, seriously one of my most favorite albums. All around incredible.

    Now do PE's It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back....and don't take another five years to get around to it!

  2. Hip hop fan or not, I can't picture anyone into music not owning this album. It was my third Beasties album and, yes, still holds up after 22 years without sounding dated as Licensed to Ill does. The 20th anniversary, remastered edition is the way to go as it sounds amazing especially when "Hello Brooklyn" is blasting out of your speakers.

  3. Nice review; the time it took to write this was truly justified, now does this mean you'll review the other Beastie Boys albums?

    Anyways, this stunt month blog has been interesting, there have been tons of artists that I haven't heard about and some that I've heard about but people have been willing to hear your take on. You're forgiven for your really long break, you proved that you're back.

    Now that this stunt month blog is over, I can finally resume reading reviews from the past in an attempt to catch up on the entirety of HHID.

  4. great album and review

  5. yo why'd you throw that chair at geraldo rivera, man?

  6. good review, glad you finally wrote on it :D i often find with this album, nothing greatly stands out but at the same time it's all good and doesnt sound too similar. it really is a fucking masterpiece

  7. great way to finish this month.

  8. Awesome! This album is worth 5 buys each listener. It's that good.

  9. djbosscrewwreckaNovember 30, 2011

    Review nailed it - nice!

  10. Good review, Max. The album is a masterpiece. When it came out, many poeple were disappointed because it did not sound like the other rap release of then (you wrote this too), but this album was not another rap album. It was one of the finest music releases in motherfucking history (you also wrote this too) from a major talented group that happened to serve the rap genre.

  11. A good "F'k yeah" sums this up nicely =)

  12. Damn, don't have this yet, a more thorough comment to come soon.. however..

    ASAP Rocky!!!


    Do it

  13. YOU DID IT. Awesome. Fucking awesome.
    I agree with PE request.

  14. Great review.
    "High Plains Drifter" always reminds me of Razor Ramon (the wrestler...) :)

  15. Bravo, Max. Loved the albums this month and the reviews were fantastic. Job well done.

  16. And one thing: sucks that you shit on some of my favorite songs here like "Car Thief", "High Plains Drifter" and "Shadrach". But then again, I could call every song here my favorite.

    Also, doesn't De La Soul's "A Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays'" use the same sample as "A Year and a Day"? I'm not talking about the Isley Brothers, but the drum sample.

  17. First off, I know I don't comment nearly enough, but you have done a great job making this blog work. I've been reading since day one (since you were a frequent reader and commenter of WYDU back in the day) and you've gotten nothing but better as time as went on.

    Next, "Paul's Boutique" is easily my favorite Beasties album and quite possibly in my top 5 albums of all-time. The production on it is simply amazing. Always made me wonder why the Dust Brothers weren't more sought after by the hip hop field (minus Tone Loc and Young MC). Hell, even Beck's "Odelay" which they produced was great musically and sample wise. A few thoughts...

    - "High Plains Drifter" is actually one of my favorite songs on the album

    - I can tell when someone first heard "Paul's Boutique" in the CD form Vs. the tape or vinyl version. "5 Piece Chicken" dinner was the "intro" for side B. It's funny how albums were laid out differently when tapes and vinyl were still the main medium. My first purchase of it was the green tape it came out on. I also bought the CD long box as well...since then I've bought it on CD many times over. I still need to break out the dough and by the remastered version on wax.

    - "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun" always felt out of place to me compared to the rest of the album...but it does hit so freakin' hard, I can overlook it.

    - Yes, "Shadrach" is the only song I don't like on it....and I really mean I don't like it. I almost always skip it. But the album is still a "5" or "10" or "100" or whatever power of ten scale being used.

    - I always thought "B-Boy Bouilabaisse" was a genius idea and thought that would be the next "big" thing in hip hop when it dropped. Not sure why I thought that way, but I still think it's one of the more original things done on a hip hop album

  18. Oh man, have to agree with P_Captain here, but I enjoy the hell out of "High Plains Drifter". Also Max, did you know that the Beastie Boys played guitar and bass on "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun"? In interviews they said the riff was simple because they simply weren't skilled enough for anything too complex. But I think it's perfect: heavy in a bluesy, early Black Sabbath sort of way... Particularly the final bass riff played as the song fades out.

    What a perfect album and perfect way to end your very ambitious stunt month. kudos Max.

  19. And so the never-ending requests for 'Check Your Head' shall begin. Enjoy Max.

  20. I liked the performances on "High Plains Drifter"; it's not like the Beasties stepped outside of their comfort zone on there or anything. But I just couldn't get into the music today. Maybe it's because I already knew what was coming up, I don't know.

    @Travis - Thanks, man. I've always appreciated the support. And I am also surprised that more artists didn't go the "B-Boy Bouillabaisse" route; there aren't many original ideas in hip hop anymore, but that remains one of the few.

    @Bob - We'll see if the Check Your Head write-up takes another fifty years.

  21. Finally!

    The Beasties had some original ideas that sounded a bit far fetched in the world of hip-hop, but they made them work somehow.

    Thanks for the review.

  22. sorry but fuck the beastie boys

  23. The Dust Brothers working with Hanson isn't the only connection that the Beasties have with Hanson. Tamra Davis (Mike D's wife) directed the "MMMM Bop" music video.

    I'm surprised you didn't do another Beasties review since they're more than likely not going to continue on since the death of MCA.

  24. AnonymousMay 28, 2013

    ^I thought Weird Al directed the mmmbop video?

    (nevermind, he directed "River")

  25. There's this INSANE bass part in B-BOY BOUILLABAISSE that just blows my mind and nearly always blows my speakers up.

  26. oH, AND THANKS for turning me onto thre SHAKE YOUR RUMP MADLIB REMIX. I fucking love Madlib and you seem to like him quite a bit as well which is what's surprising about you not having more reviews with him in it. I reccomend the Percee P album he produced, or the obvious madvillainy.

  27. This album is easily worse than Vanilla Ice and not even trying to be an asshole. Not understanding the appeal of this crap