To The 5 Boroughs

Beastie Boys

Capitol Records, 2004

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Like punk rock, there's an unfair, a general rule about rap has circulated in the mainstream music community: if you have gray hair, you need to get out of the game. This belief is totally bogus and, unfortunately places some limitations on both rap and punk.

The Beastie Boys, some in their '40s, came into the studio with this weight on their shoulders: would kids take to their prankster image? In addition, the Beasties were no longer the jokesters of their Paul's Boutique or even Ill Communication era; they are one of the most vocal critics of the Bush administration. Indeed, when To the 5 Boroughs came out, all of the factors surrounding who the Beastie Boys were threatened to overshadow the music they created. And coming from a band that has never had a stinker in their collection (with the exception of the unlistenable toss-off collection … my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Some Old Bullshit), To the 5 Boroughs could have easily been a career suicide album.

No worries. The Beastie Boys batting record remains stellar. It's mercifully shorter than Hello, Nasty, an album that seems to drag on about as long as the Beastie Boys' five year-plus hiatus. The album is a clean 45-minutes and much has been made about its retro throwback to "old school" hip-hop.

Still, the Beastie Boys already made their "going back to old school" album with Hello, Nasty. And with the lack of musical innovation, the most striking thing about the album is the bold, defiant album cover, with the World Trade Center penciled into the skyline in all its glory. After five listens, To The Five Boroughs' still basically sounds like the Beastie Boys' "We gotta get Bush out of the White House" album.

The Beastie Boys have always taken chances and challenged their audience. From the "what the hell is this?" sounds of Paul's Boutique (an album that took about ten years for most listeners to finally catch up) to their picking up the guitars and drums with Check Your Head, the Beastie Boys have rarely bored its listeners. Even Hello, Nasty's excess could be forgiven. Unfortunately, To The 5 Boroughs is the first Beastie Boys album that sounds "safe."

To The 5 Boroughs' saving grace is its brevity. Even if it's the weakest full-length album in the Beastie Boys' catalog, it has enough enjoyable moments (see "All Lifestyles", "Hey F*** You") to merit repeat listens. Even the most cynical record store owner can't help but get a lump in their throat when listening to the Beastie's rousing "An Open Letter to NYC": "Dear New York, I know a lot has changed, 2 towers down, but you're still in the game." And before you know it, the album is over, before you can really bitch about all of its shortcomings.

However, just as I'm about to give it a 'B' or higher, I pick up The Street's new album, A Grand Don't Come For Free. That album is bold, risky (a rap concept album) and audacious - the things that To The 5 Boroughs, for all its good intentions, just isn't. The Beastie Boys have already looked to the past. It's a shame they didn't look to the future with this album.

Rating: C +

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2004 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.