The Beastie Boys’ new album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, dropped this week and it sounds like nothing less than a full-on retreat to 1992. Given the inertia the Boys displayed on their last full-length, To the Five Boroughs, this return to Check Your Head-style instrumentation and arrangements is more than welcome. It’s nice simply to hear the Beastie Boys doing what they do best, even if they’re not breaking any new ground or pushing forward in any way.
We are all so terribly old
It’s striking and somewhat odd that it took a return to form for the Beastie Boys to make another good album, given that they made their hay with two of the greatest departure albums ever made. Paul’s Boutique shocked all of us who thought that Licensed to Ill was nothing more than a fun, one-off lark, using sample-laden and reference-packed sacks to show that Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock were more than novelty rappers. And then Check Your Head immediately followed, adding a funk style, playing with song structure and replacing a lot of the samples with live instruments. To have two such wildly different albums back to back, and for both to be great, is an underrated achievement, even among the Boys’ large following.
Pop music critics overuse the term “departure album,” applying it too often to records that are nothing more than moderate steps forward. A true departure album marks a decided shift in an artist’s sound, approach or songwriting. For example, Wilco’s Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot have both been called departure albums, when they’re really just part of a progression.
Now, that doesn’t mean a departure album must involve a hip hop band going country, or a pop singer turning to Norwegian death metal*, but the change must be more dramatic than Being There —> Summerteeth, or adding a keyboard to a standard four-piece rock band.
* Though I would pay a lot of money to hear Bruce Springsteen’s legendary, shelved hip hop-inspired album from the ’90s.
Departure albums play a mythical role in pop music history, and now we’re taking a look at the best ones ever made — at least the best ones ever made by people other than three New York City Jews.