There is a sense of finality when these kinds of hits, B-sides, rarities and remixes are released. This one seems to come at a weird time; phase one of the Beastie Boys' career officially ended more than five years ago when Adam Yauch first got involved in trying to help end the Chinese occupation of Tibet. They were no longer bratty white-bread punk rappers, but responsible adults. I mean, can the same guys who toured with an inflatable penis hang with the Dalai Lama?
They must have learned some wisdom from his holiness -- the Beasties had the good sense to craft a way to pre-empt the inevitable criticism about songs that were left off the anthology. Through Internet site Musicmaker.com, custom best-of CDs, accessing the group's entire catalogue -- minus their first record Licensed to Ill -- are available for roughly the same price as The Sounds of Science. The CDs in record stores have "Fight for Your Right," "Slow and Low" and "Brass Monkey" from Licensed, but those who also want to take advantage of compiling more live tracks and remixes can survive without having "New Style" on the same disc.
Science of Sounds
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Instead, the custom option lets hard-core fans cull what they think constitutes essential and give the record their own title. Science of Sounds is the comp that I painstakingly put together. It leans heavily on the instrumental and fonky songs from the middle period of the band's career, particularly the underappreciated Paul's Boutique. But there are a lot of styles to choose from. After all, this is a band that started out sampling Led Zeppelin and now feels comfortable using Rachmaninoff for the riff from last year's "Intergalactic." Though the songs aren't presented in chronological order, Sounds of Science demonstrates just how far the Boys have come while maintaining their ability to have fun and be serious about the music. The Beastie Boys have been able to succeed throughout their career by continually mutating their punk, alternative rock and hip-hop sound to a point where they could get away with nearly anything.
The other effect of the somewhat random playlist is it shows how much they have stuck to their guns. After having hit records, they took a step back and learned how to really play their instruments, reinventing themselves as all-purpose rappers with 1992's Check Your Head, just as capable of dropping their own funky tracks as sampling others. Plus, they went back to playing three-chord thrashers like the ones they did before becoming famous. Both kinds of aggressive punk are included on Science: "Egg Raid on Mojo," recorded when the Boys were still in high school and which sounds just like the crappy, East Coast hard-core band they were at the time, and "Time for Livin'," a song by fellow NYC hard-core group Front Line, from Check Your Head. The punk stuff got left off my custom disc in favor of remixes by the Handsome Modeling Boy Modeling School and a live version of "Groove Holmes." After all, who needs punk when you could have funk?