By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
With the Dust Brothers behind the board, the band recorded the album in Los Angeles, where it set up shop after its acrimonious split with Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons over issues of creative and financial control, and today, Paul's Boutique still stands as the Beastie Boys' masterpiece--or, at the very least, the dividing line between the Boys as one-off joke and the Boys as innovators.
Yauch, Diamond and Horovitz were still "out looking for a female companion," but they were kicking their little cuties in the booties for doing zootie, and their pickup lines and brags had evolved into freeform pop-poetry (I'm gonna die harder than my kid Bruce Willis Drummond"). Paul's even featured a track about a homeless man named Johnny Ryall, "a rockabilly star from the days of old."
Accordingly, like most artistic successes, Paul's Boutique was a commercial failure, selling a fraction of what Licensed did.
"After we had the big falling out with Russell, it was just, 'Let's just get away from New York, let's just get away from everything we know,'" Diamond says. "We hooked up with the Dust Brothers in L.A., and it was like, 'Okay, we can go completely wild and do whatever we want.' It was completely a new world.
"Making that record--as well as what happened to that record, in terms of how it sold commercially--was sort of necessary, in terms of where we are now. The only way we could be in the position we are now is by accepting everything up to this point . . . I just remember Russell Simmons called us up and said, 'You guys are really on some art shit now.'"
Check Your Head (1992) was the Beasties' attempt to merge their hard-core past with the funk of Paul's Boutique and this third, less-definable element--one that would forever define the Beasties as being apart from others content to exist in one musical world. Check Your Head erupted with whole songs and fragments of ideas and instrumentals that grooved to nowhere in a hurry and snatches of distorted voices and guitars, clearing the way for its successor.
Ill Communication is hardly a good album, no more than Maggot Brain or Phase Two by the Jimmy Castor Bunch are mere good albums; like those two works, Ill Communication serves to redefine the boundaries of the familiar (hip-hop, funk, jazz, even pop). Where Licensed to Ill set up the parameters--begin with Steve Miller Band and War, go to Zeppelin and Sabbath, but not past Barry White--and Paul's Boutique knocked them down with a big-ass pair of platform shoes, Ill Communication ups the funk by abolishing the standards.
It's their showoff album, the one on which they throw in the violins and the flutes and the pretty mood instrumentals and the hard-core ode to Detroit Piston Bill Laimbeer and the outta-nowhere, Buddha-praising "Bodhisattva Vow." It's entrenched in the over-reverbed production techniques of Jamaican dub master Lee "Scratch" Perry (who appears on the cover of the new Grand Royal and garners a mention in "Sure Shot")--whose sound, Diamond explains, "as fucked up as it is, is just amazing."
And Ill Communication is the album on which these three Boys--men now (Diamond is married to director Tamra Davis, Horovitz is shacked up with actress Ione Skye and Yauch is heavily into Buddhism)--grow up: They blow reefer for spiritual enlightenment instead of using it to snag cooz, and they struggle with how to make the "serious" songs about takin' care of Mother "Fuckin'" Earth sound good next to the ones with titles like "B-Boy Makin' With the Freak Freak." On top of it all is the single of the summer, "Sabotage," with its Starsky and Hutch-inspired video directed by Davis.
"I think we're always doing something as part of our own evolution," Diamond says. "I think that's totally natural and realistic. But instead of it being a conscious decision towards evolution, it's kind of like this friendly anarchy that happens between a group of people that works out. There's the three of us--me, Adam and Adam--and it's kind of like, you've got these minds coming in and it's just chaos in terms of whatever idea happens first or whatever idea comes to life first. Yet it all works out, and in a totally supportive group way.
"But on this record, there was definitely a degree of comfort with being in the studio. For the first time, whether it's good or bad, we almost felt like we knew what we were doing. Sometimes." He pauses, then laughs. "Okay, occasionally.