New York began for me, a Philly schoolboy, the same way it did for out-of-town skaters and college students, graffiti artists, sculptors, stockbrokers, gym teachers, sanitation workers, B-boys, DJs, carpool dads, White Castle burger-flippers–basically anybody under the age of 30–with Licensed to Ill. Since then (two decades and more), all paths into New York nostalgia and downtown have led back, in lines so straight they could be tacked up like an elementary-school class timeline, to the Beastie Boys.
So what’s a guy named Adrock, or MCA, or Mike D to do? No wonder, with The Mix-Up, they’ve got nothing to say–their second all-instrumental record, and by all aural indications a desperate move. Joan Didion once wrote about New York, “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.” No one will tell them when their time is up: Who could know?
If 2004’s To the 5 Boroughs was an exercise in reminiscence masquerading as a nod to current events–the erstwhile New Yorkers emerging post September 11th to hail the city they knew when they were young–The Mix-Up is a kind of admission of obsolescence. Not that it’s bad. Tossed-off, underdone, monotonous, unfinished, and redundant maybe, but not bad. Think “Lighten Up” or “Groove Holmes,” the lounge-y instrumental tracks that laced Check Your Head, minus the dub and the samples, leaving in the low-key vamps, Fender Rhodes organ, crispy 4/4 snares, congas, vintage distortion, a metered shuffle. “Off the Grid” crams in hand claps, a meandering guitar solo, and an ethereal keyboard line. Mostly it stands out because it doesn’t repeat, incessantly.
Looking to old interludes for new inspiration–given that the Beastie Boys made an art of plundering virtually everything they could get their hands on, raiding their own past makes brutal, inevitable sense. What’s available to them but the history they once made?