Twenty years after its initial release, the Beastie Boys’ second full-length Paul’s Boutique (Capitol Records) stands tall as the trio’s most diverse, fun and innovative album of its career. Around late January/early February, the group, via its website gave it new life as it released a remastered version on vinyl and eco-friendly CD form with the option of downloading digital versions (while you wait for the physical versions to hit your mailbox). You could also get this release in pure digital form (320 kbps mp3, plus interactive 3D digital artwork).
These New York City natives were recording in Los Angeles in 1989, but as the album cover suggests, this epic release thematically was an ode of sorts to their home state and life – “Hey Ladies” was the exception, as it was geared towards California girls.
In many ways, P.B. was different than its smash debut Licensed To Ill. While the latter was both a pioneering and ultimate party rap/hard rock record, Paul’s Boutique was wild in a unique way, and its secret weapon was the Dust Brothers, E.Z. Mike in particular.
MCA (Adam Yauch), Mike D (Michael Diamond) and Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) yelled or smoothly rapped endless amounts of clever rhymes throughout the album, while E.Z. Mike scratched, sampled and cut tons of records to provide a mixture of sound unlike anything you’ve ever heard before or since. In all, there are reportedly 105 songs sampled on P.B., and they run the gamut from jazz, R&B, country/bluegrass and funk to hip-hop, reggae, soul, and hard rock. Listening to these songs and samples is still a trip all these years later.
The only live instrumentation comes from Yauch’s bass guitar and Ad-Rock’s guitar parts on the track “Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun.” It is also the only rap/metal track in the vein of Licensed To Ill on the record. It’s simple yet impressive, especially given the fact that rappers weren’t known for playing their own instruments back then. The Beasties, who started out as hardcore punk rockers, would only increase their level of hands-on musicianship on future albums.
The optional 50-minute-long P.B. audio commentary you can download from the Beastie Boys website as an mp3 is very revealing, as the trio goes through what they remember about the recording process of all 23 songs. Here, the aforementioned E.Z. Mike is much heralded by the Boys for his work on the record, along with Matt Dike and other behind-the-scenes people who helped shape it.
Among many facts (too many to mention here), you learn from the commentary that “Egg Man” was partly inspired by these young rappers’ history of throwing eggs at people, and that what they call the “crazy retarded scratch” in the middle of “The Sounds of Science” was based on a vinyl record that kept skipping on E.Z. Mike. It sounded so humorous to the Beasties that it was included on the record. Also, this essential P.B. track included samples of a few Beatles tracks. Indeed, the Dust Brothers brilliantly mixed in samples of “Sgt. Peppers,” “The End,” and “Back In The U.S.S.R.” while the Beasties gang-rapped all over them.
In addition to being remastered, this seminal record was also resequenced. “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” was originally a bunch of short recordings grouped as a suite for the 15th and final track. For the 20th anniversary edition, it was separated into 9 separate tracks, giving the album 23 in total, with track 19, the bass-booming “Hello Brooklyn” being its explosive highlight. What a relief it is to not have constantly press the REW/FWD buttons on your CD player (or cassette tape deck for those of you who had one of those back in the day) anymore to hear your favorite tracks from this formerly 12-minute suite.
And with that, arguably the strongest Beastie Boys record from start to finish just got even better. Thus, the 20th anniversary edition of Paul’s Boutique deserves and has truly earned my first-ever perfect rating.