DISCLAIMER: For clarity’s sake, there will be two categories of album reviews on this blog: ordinary reviews of new releases (or music that’s new to me), and profiles of my favorite albums and what makes them great in my opinion. This review will be the latter.
Honestly, what can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said in some capacity already? Pinning down how much it changed not only the trajectory of the Beastie Boys’ careers (from one-note joke group to respected artists), but also the evolving landscape of hip-hop on the whole, is almost impossible. But I’ll try.
I was a big fan of Licensed To Ill. Big, hard-hitting beats based on guitar riffs, funny lyrics about drugs and partying, three contrasting personalities and voices trading lines? What’s not to love? So I went into Paul’s Boutique expecting all that and more. For lack of a better term, I was confused at the sound. Gone were the loud guitars and boisterous lyrics, replaced by a funkier, jazzier, more sample-based sound (at least 105 known samples on a 15-song record) and slightly less obnoxious lyrics. I had no idea why they would tone down what made them big upon hearing the record for the first time three years ago. But last summer I decided to give it another spin, and after a few listens, Paul’s Boutique quickly became one of my favorite albums.
It’s difficult to pin down why, exactly. That’s the strange part. But what I always end up coming back to when I try to quantify what makes this record great is that it just sounds…right. Every song, every sample, every pass-the-mic moment between Ad-Rock, Mike D, and the late great MCA, it all fits together. And with the exception of a funky, slow, but brief intro/outro, there quite literally never is a dull moment on this record. From the opening drum line on “Shake Your Rump” to the flipped Good Times chant on “AWOL”, it never stops being exciting and fresh.
A younger me was disappointed that the Beasties didn’t do more of the same with their sophomore album. Now, though, I’m in awe at how many different directions a group that was dismissed as a joke was able to go. The story-song format of “Paul Revere” is refined and honed to a point on the phenomenal “High Plains Drifter” and “Car Thief”, dealing with a small-time thug’s crime spree and drug dealing in a pool hall. The humorous line-trading songs are nearly flawless. I mean, who can forget boasts like “I got more hits than Sadaharu Oh,” “More Adidas sneakers than a plumber’s got pliers,” or “Words flowin’ out just like the Grand Canyon?” But the thing that struck me the most when I really started listening to this album was the technical prowess of the rapping itself. Compared to their first album, there basically is no comparison, and each member gets some time to really show off their skills at different points on the album. Mike D takes the line “I stay up all night, I go to sleep watching Dragnet” and somehow makes it sound like a badass statement on “3-Minute Rule”, and then just lets loose for one of those three minutes. Ad-Rock blows away his verse at the end of the same song, and MCA really gets his chance to shine on “A Year and a Day”, wherein he outlines the meaning behind his life and rhymes. But the best part of the album comes when all three Beasties team up to just completely destroy a track, with the final minute and a half of “The Sounds of Science” featuring all three of them just going balls-out (over five Beatles samples layered together!). It’s the best example of their line-swapping coordination style, and probably the high point of the whole album for me.
Paul’s Boutique is an album that just goes all over the place with its sound and influences, yet stays completely true to its hip-hop roots and never fails to be interesting and fun to listen to. There’s something new to catch every time you put it on, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Standout Tracks: Shake Your Rump, Johnny Ryall, The Sounds of Science, 3-Minute Rule, Shadrach, A Year and a Day.
VERDICT: Seriously, go buy this album already.