Beastie Boys - Check Your Head

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"Naturally, the Beasties were in a pretty weird position when it came to Check Your Head. They'd had a debut that was commercially an absolute blockbuster, breaking all manner of records and, really, marking the moment when most people had to accept that rap was a legitimate musical form, rather than just another subcultural movement that would fade into obscurity within five years. And yet, about half the songs on it were offensively bad; "Fight For Your Right" and "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" may have been gold, but as an album it was mediocre at best. It still stands today as the worst album the Beasties have ever made. The follow-up, Paul's Boutique, was exactly the opposite - as groundbreaking artistically as Licensed To Ill had been commercially, it remains one of the most untouchable documents in hip-hop's history. Naturally, nobody bought it. The contrasting fates probably damned mainstream hip-hop to a future of general mediocrity, but that's an argument for another time.

The M.O. for Check Your Head was simple - combine the two albums, and somehow come up with something that was artistically valid, and would still sell. This album was their first step into the world they'd stay in, and effectively are still in - hip-hop that displays a sense of musical intelligence and invention and a finely-tuned sense of humour, but doesn't stray too far from the frat-boy friendly vocal trade-offs that made a million white kids buy their first album. "Intergalactic", "Check It Out", "Sabotage", "Sure Shot" - the blueprint is here. Naturally, they had to sacrifice the psychedelic sample-heavy collage of 1989's Paul's Boutique, for financial reasons as much as anything - De La Soul's 3 Feet High & Rising, also released in 1989 (and seen by some as Paul's Boutique's nearest musical twin), had seen the group sued for one of the many samples used. The ground that hip-hop stood on had changed forever - songs built from dozens of carefully pieced-together samples were out. So a fresh musical outlook was needed.

They kept it simple. There's effectively only two songs on Check Your Head - the first is a stomping, guitar-driven rap track that allowed the group to do what they do best (rap, basically), while the second is a lightly funky, vaguely dubby downtempo lounge track with little or no vocals. They'd return to the latter on 2007's The Mix-Up for a full album, but here's it's slightly jarring - it really does feel like you're listening to two albums. Those instrumental (or near-instrumental) tracks might add variety to the album, and they might actually display some good musical ideas here and there, but put them next to the hip-hop powerhouses elsewhere on this album, and well....they're pretty boring, to be honest. It's especially jarring when "Something's Got To Give" follows on from the album's feted excursion into hardcore on "Time For Livin'", making it sound like a new age track in comparison.
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