In early 1994 the time was right for the Beastie Boys to make a behemoth of a comeback.
The three mc’s had faded from the spotlight. Licensed To Ill had catapulted the outfit to global infamy. A huge seller. Limited in sound range but all-encompassing with its brazen tomfoolery. A classic debut LP.
Paul’s Boutique will never be topped by the Beastie’s – it’s just not possible. There are however times when you want to listen to a different sound from them.
The range of sound was added to on the drastic – all change – 3rd album Check Your Head. Whereas Paul’s Boutique offered a perfect bugged-out / fried sound of glory – Check Your Head saw the band pick up instruments and have a bash.
Despite albums 2 & 3 being the bands most artistic they did not sell well in the U.K. – initially at least.
Check Your Head was a Number 1 album in the States – but they are American treasures – and rightly so.
With a stale post-Nirvana music scene early ’94 was crying out for an album like Ill Communication. Britpop hadn’t really happened yet. The time was right.
Sure Shot launches Ill Comminication. A fun lively number. The 3 MC’s interject, the music flows. Full of great lines it’s sets the tone well.
Tough Guy is a nod to Minor Threat and astonishingly hardly sounds any worse. A raw hardcore punk blast.
Order is quickly resumed with the mellower B-Boys Makin’ With The Freak-Freak. Scorched muffled lyrics flow like a small step up from Check Your Head. Already the album has huge range and we’re just three songs in.
Bobo On The Corner wobbles in with a heavy near jazz vibe. More echoes of Check Your Head and the band show they’ve improved on their respective instruments.
Root Down checks the vibe of Sure Shot but if anything sounds better – more solid. I can’t think of an outfit – hip-hop or otherwise – that interject so well. Ad Rock again confirms that he’s probably the best rapper that has walked the face of this planet.
The next track is probably responsible the bands comeback (commercially). Sabotage just leaps out at you. Of note that the Spike Jonze video played its part well. A cracking track that would for a good decade cause mayhem on dancefloors. Musically, not actually up to much it just works on many many levels with no logical reason. It’s a gem.
Get In Together the first single pulled from Ill Communication features laid back rapper Q-Tip. Mellow but solid… “cause she’s the cheese and I’m the macaroni”. “Phone is ringin’ – Oh my God”. Another classic in the bag.
Sabrosa licks its way out of the speakers next. Starsky & Hutch beckon. Late night vibes that ooze. I do prefer Check Your Head as an album but cannot deny that Ill Communication marks the spot where they could actually play as a band.
The Update almost skips Check Your Head. Sounding as heavily fried as Paul’s Boutique but with a totally different production it takes Ill Communication under into a deeper place that we’ve ever heard them before. It’s a heavy pull and a killer tune.
Futterman’s Rule hits that scorch dial again up to 11. Ambling but never plodding it sears its way around like a content blind man. Searing bass and subtle samples. It pulls the album deeper somehow.
Alright Hear This brings the rap back. Still heavily fried the Brooklyn Three consolidate the Ill Commincation vibe further still. This is getting deep.
Eugene’s Lament throws buddhist imagery our way. Suggestive late night wah’s. Casual but confident. The track throws unexpected shards of glory.
Flute Loop features some of Ad Rock’s best vocal delivery ever. The track is laid back but the muffled vocals spew. It only hits all the right spots.
Do It follows Flute Loop’s vive totally. A very similar track. Full of fantastic hip-hop lyricism the music throbs away. The pulse is alive.
Ricky’s Theme has dreamlike qualities. The sound of Beastie bliss.
Heart Attack Man returns to the Minor Threat sound of track 2. Furious and tight it breaks down into a near thrash jam and is all the better for it.
“arrrgh, what do we know about partying or anything else?” sample outros Heart Attack Man and then we’re pulled under again. The Scoop is bizzare and bold. Fantastic lyrical ’94 mentions of David Koresh and Huggy Bear (the band) the track marks time with an Ill Communication stamp.
Shambala is almost as experimental as the Beastie Boys have ever ventured. Deep buddhist chants. Washing guitar licks. You can see the album is ending soon and on first listen at least notice that it’s going out in a laid back blaze. A million miles away from “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” you just have to nod with real respect.
Bodhisattva Vow bleeds in. This is getting crazy deep now. You just let the band take you on this unexpected journey. MCA delivers arguably his best ever vocal – and you can’t even make out the words – you just feel it. You sense it’s his track. Totally scorched sounds pulse out. You feel the need – for probably the first time ever – to meditate. Powerful stuff.
Transitions is the final track. It’s one of the best album closers ever. Fitting. Tame. Deep. Lush. The kind of track that would fit a funeral. It sounds gloomy but bustles with painfully earnest musicianship.
So there you have it. The album that catapulted the band back into the spotlight. MTV. Nightclubs. T-Shirts. They were everywhere again – and rightly so… a hip-hop Dark Side Of The Moon – if you will – and all that said… it’s probably only my 4th favourite album by them…