Monday record review 5/7/2012: "Paul's Boutique," by Beastie Boys

Is there a name for that phenomenon when a celebrity dies, and repeated instances of tribute oversaturate and threaten to desensitize? If so, there needs to be a term for more tribute in spite of the glut—by the time you read this, Monday (or after), I’m sure you will have read as many MCA tributes as you’d like. I know this. But regardless:

There’s this parlor game that my friends and I have played for years: which celebrity, when s/he dies, would cause people to spill out onto the street, weeping? It’s harder than you think. Like we didn’t get Michael Jackson.
MCA—and the Beastie Boys—are so engrained in the psyches of everyone of a certain wide-sweeping age that his contributions are barely even noticed, so fundamental are they. The Beastie Boys were always impressive to me because not only did they have depth of reference—the Bad Brains AND the Ramones were sampled into their music with a winking cool, like “if you get the joke you’re okay with us”—but breadth, too. They paid attention to pop culture so widely that their references transcended genre and social groups equally. Go out, be curious, and dig what you dig, they seemed to be saying. It’s cool. It’s all cool.

With that said, I didn’t get Paul’s Boutique at all when it was released. It didn’t sound anything like Licensed to Ill. It was in 1993, after Check Your Head came out, that I got into it. My buddy John played the record every day of our summer camp employ at Wah-Tut-Ca, it seemed, so I learned the album through his gesticulations and pantomimes of the songs.

Paul’s Boutique (Full Album)

Of course, I didn’t get the record fully then. I probably still don’t now, to be honest. Almost twenty years ago, when I first dove in, I was too punk to acknowledge that there had been a band called the Beatles, much less that they were, and are, the best band of all time. So “The Sounds of Science” went right over my head. It was only years later that I caught the references. Public Enemy? Got it. But Trouble Funk? Curtis Mayfield? Funkadelic? I found all of ‘em years apart. They recontextualized the album, again and again. I’m sure that there’s still tons that I’m missing, that scholars haven’t been able to find or decipher yet. Like the Beastie Boys themselves, Paul’s Boutique was, and is, the Rosetta Stone of effortless cool.

The thought of the Beastie Boys not happening any more is unfathomable to me. I went out onto the street myself Friday in tribute. That was part of the magic: their music, with its references, is deeply personal, yet uniting. It’s this duality which makes Paul’s Boutique so rewarding: it’s a party record with depth, always rewarding because of its sonic and referential density. I can’t imagine that there will ever be a band able to simultaneously connect and transcend ever again.

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