CD Review of The Mix-Up by Beastie Boys

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The Mix-Up
starstarhalf starno starno star Label: Capitol
Released: 2007
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Ah, Beasties, how far you’ve come. From punk/thrash band to wacky rappers to serious rap auteurs to lounge/funk instrumentalists. Back in 1992, you guys decided to start introducing guitars, drums, and bass with a dash of funky organ into Check Your Head, not only as the basis for such groovy rap tracks as “Live at P.J.’s” but also on such instrumental breaks like “Pow” and “In 3’s.” You continued this sort of “experimentalism” on the holding pattern album Ill Communication. The kids loved the grooves so much that you even went so far as to compile said grooves from both albums into a “new” release entitled The in Sound from Way Out! It became something of a cult favorite, though a little unnecessary if you already had the songs on the other discs. But then again, this was sort of before everyone went crazy ripping CDs and such.

So you made a couple more albums. The over-long Hello Nasty was so-so, but To the 5 Boroughs was your second masterpiece, next to Paul’s Boutique. So this time around maybe you just didn’t want to rap. Maybe you just wanted to groove and be done with it. Maybe knowing how well the previous instrumental compilation album sold inspired you to come up with a whole new album of such fare for the fans that just wanted to kick back in the rocking chairs and groove along with you.

Maybe you just should have made this album and not sent it out as your latest official release.

Seriously, guys. I love your stuff as much as the next fan, but projects like The Mix-Up are better left used as B-side fodder or sprinkled throughout your “regular” albums, as has been the practice in the past. When you lump all these mid-tempo, same-sounding tracks together, the impression quickly left is not what great instrumentalists you are, but how pedestrian and simple your playing is. Nothing wrong with that if you’re actually offering something to go along with it. No one’s ever going to claim that “Sabotage” is an intricate, technical mindfuck of a rocker, but it does rock because the simple yet catchy bass riff married to that simple guitar chord progression has some meaty and memorable Ad-Rock rhymes and vocals on top. What we have on The Mix-Up is just a collection of background noise grooves, and we all know there are already too many of those types of CDs out there released by lesser artists.

Not to say the disc is an entire waste. The opening groove, “B for My Name,” is the perfect opener, and certainly one of your best instrumental grooves thus far. Money Mark’s organ funk sits in the pocket nicely next to Mike D.’s typical yet capable beats. Good percussion work abounds, and Ad-Rock is still doing that wah-wah thing well. But guess what? There are 11 more tracks of variations on this theme for us to sit through, and unfortunately they’re not all this good. I will give you “Freaky Hijiki” as a really tight example of what you can do with the stoned ‘70s vibe. MCA’s bass break is groovy, and once again Money Mark knows how to lay down a good keyboard vibe with Ad-Rock’s guitar chords. “The Rat Cage” is pretty good, too, but more for Money Mark’s contributions than anything else.

The rest of the album is less exciting, or completely forgettable. “14th St. Break” sounds like someone was listening to bad jam band music and decided to let this “influence” carry into the funk. It sucks, basically. “Electric Worm” is more of a skeletal idea for background music than actual background music. “The Melee” could well induce headaches thanks to its lousy incorporation of echo and Money Mark’s spastic keyboards. “The Kangaroo Rat” tries to recreate “B for My Name” in feel, but misses completely. That leaves us with generic placeholders like “The Gala Event” and “Dramastically Different” that just sound worn out when stacked side by side.

I’m all for hearing another Beasties album “as it should be.” However, if this is the direction the Boys are going to take for a while, then just count me out. There are far better instrumental funk artists to be heard and albums to be purchased. While this stuff was something that made you sit up and take notice the first time around on Check Your Head, we’ve all become a little too familiar with the recipe. Maybe some new tricks should be learned, but The Mix-Up will not go into the Beasties’ canon as one of those memorable releases. If anything, it sounds more like a bored diversion than the real deal.

~Jason Thompson