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December 10 - 17, 1999

[Music Reviews]

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(Grand Royal/Capitol)

One of the best parts of this two-CD, 42-track collection can be found deep inside the 77-page glossy-paged liner-notes booklet, where everybody's favorite rapping Jewish zen master, Adam Yauch, wrestles with the Beastie Boys' prankster past in a little mini essay about the song "Fight for Your Right." Strategically placed opposite a priceless vintage photo of Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D in belligerent party mode, each proudly wielding a can or bottle of Bud, the document in question is Yauch's disarmingly honest attempt to account for a legacy he's understandably not too comfortable with. "We decided to include this song because it sucks," he jokingly begins before going on to explain that the Boys' big rap-metal breakthrough started off as a "goof" but turned into a case of life imitating artlessness as the Beasties "became just what it was that we'd set out to make fun of." The moral of the story: "All of the sexist macho jerks in the world are just pretending cause they're caught in a rut, and maybe, at some point in the future, when the planets line up in a certain way, they'll snap out of it."

The Beasties, as the career-spanning Sounds of Science details, snapped out of it. More important, they pulled off the attitude adjustment without losing their artistic edge or cultural relevance. If anything, they've improved with maturity, something rare enough in rock and rarer still in rap. Sounds of Science loosely yet effectively documents the Beasties' evolution from snotty Bud-drinking punks to responsible world citizens with a social agenda, an ultra-hip boutique label, and a penchant for plugging directly into pop zeitgeists (from metal-rap to Dust Bros. retro-funk to, most recently, back-to-basics turntablism) that rivals '70s Bowie. It all tastes good, even if it wasn't always in good taste. And it's all represented here in a near perfect balance: plenty of hip-hop hits ("Sabotage," "Intergalactic") plus a few nuggets of hardcore ("Beastie Boys," "Time for Livin' "); funk-infused spiritual outreach ("Bodhisattva Vow") and amusing little in-jokes ("Country Mike's Theme," a hilarious live cover of "Benny and the Jets" with a woozy Biz Markie on the mike); most of the crucial tracks from major Beastie releases as well as the non-album tracks that matter, like Fatboy Slim's much improved remix of "Body Movin' " and the single version of "Jimmy James" (the one with the Hendrix samples intact). Who would have ever guessed that the "Fight for Your Right" boys had all of that in them?

-- Matt Ashare
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