Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Classic Album Corner

Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989)

If ever there was a candidate for the One Hit Wonder file, it should have been the Beastie Boys. The novelty of being three White Jewish rappers who took the music scene by storm in 1986-87 by combining hard rock riffs over alternating whiny raps seemed destined to play itself out quickly. The lack of a quick follow-up record ensured that the what-have-you-done-for-us-lately music public would soon remove the boys from consciousness and move on to the next Big Thing. “Fight For You Right (To Party)” was destined to become a drunken idiot anthem for the ages, and Licensed To Ill becoming a quirky historical footnote.

In the aftermath of supporting Ill, the Beastie Boys relocated to Los Angeles and hooked up with the Dust Brothers production team. The resulting sessions produced an album that was such a departure from Ill that it alienated many fans, who were expecting Licensed To Ill 2. The sales of Boutique paled in comparison, with no radio ready single nor any breakthrough wacky video to pump it. Despite that, the record was a perfect evolutionary step for the maturing Boys, and remains not only one of the best hip hop records ever made, but one of the best, period. It slowly became a sort of an unsing favorite of many Beastie Boys fans, and now takes it's place among the group's bets work.

The record simply could not be made today – the multitude of samples, taken before each had to be cleared, is staggering. (Click here for a listing of every sample used for details). The Boys love of funky soul 70’s era music is immediately apparent as the album opens (and closes) with “To All The Girls…”, a dedication to the females of the world, and a nod to the horny boy attitude they were known for (but eventually grew out of). The rat-a-tat drums sound pounds in as "Shake Your Rump" opens, kicking off the record in force, and sets the tone as the boys blend alternating raps with funky samples. "Johnny Ryall" tells the story of a now-homeless one time blues legend (fictional), while "Egg Man" blends the familiar shower scene music from Psycho with the theme from Jaws, while at the same time featuring one of the first solcially conscious rhymes the Beasties ever dropped - "You make a mistake/ you judge a man by his race/you go through life/with egg on your face".

One important side note: during the three years on inactivity, the Beasties became embroiled in a dispute with Def Jam, their original label. At one point, it was alleged that DJ head Russell Simmons was going to put out his own "Beastie Boys" record, comprised of studio demos and assorted items, until Public Enemy's Chuck D set him straiught by informing him that the stuff prepared for Paul's was some of the hottest hip hop he'd ever heard. Simmons backed off, as the group signed on with Capitol records, who ended up viewing this record as a disappointment, clearly expecting Ill level sales.

"Hey Ladies", "High Plains Drifter", "Car Thief" and "Looking Down The Barrell Of A Gun" all utilized the variety of samples to perfection, but the real masterpiece of the record is the 12 minute epic "B-Boy Bouillabaise". Less like one song than an amalgamation of several disconnected ideas, the song works, as the varied tempos and individual raps conmbine to make a tune the likes of which hip hop had never seen. A personal fave of mine is the "A Year And A Day" which features a knockout sample of The Isley Brothers' "Who's That Lady".

The record has stood the test of time, and is all the more unique when listened to today when you take inot account the sheer volume of samples, and the outstanding work done by the Dust Brithers and Mario Caldato in weaving all the elements together to produce such a memorable album.

The group took things to another level on later releases, playing all their own instruments and hitting it big with Check Your Head and Ill Communication. Their latest release, The Mix-up, eschews rap altogether in favor of instrumentals, and recently won a Grammy.

Beastie Boys official site
Paul's Boutique Samples and References List

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Journey To The Center Of My DVR - Idiocracy

Idiocracy (2006)
Starring Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard

Directed by MIke Judge

Rated R

Now this one was easy to miss - Fox did all it could to ensure nobody would ever see this film. The release was confined to a small number of screens on both coasts, and quickly disappeared. Only via its appearance on cable has it been able to reach a wide audience, and quickly reach cult status.

It's not exactly clear why the studio would not put any effort behind this movie - it's a Mike Judge project. Judge, best known for TV shows Beavis and Butt-head, King Of The Hill, as well as the great cult film Office Space, seemingly has enough name recognition and credibility to get behind. Could it be that the film, a brilliant science fiction piece whereby stupid people, via pure volume breeding, totally take over the country, just might go completely over the heads of their audiences? Pandering to the lowest common denominator is something Fox specializes in, and they might have been thinking that this movie would have sailed right over the heads of the movie going crowd.

The film details how low level career military man Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) is chosen to take part in an experiment whereby he is placed in a state of suspended animation, and revived at a later date, with the idea of creating super soldiers of the future. As this is a movie, Something Goes Wrong, and Wilson (along with local hooker Rita, played by Maya Rudolph) remains "frozen" for 500 years. They awaken to a world which has been overrun by stupidity, making the terminal underachiever and the hooker the de facto smartest people in the country. The opening of the film, which explains how the country (and presumably the world) ended up in this state is hilarious, and somewhat disturbing as one can totally see the scenario happening.
Navigating his way through an endless supply of utter morons who speak "hybrid of hillbilly, Valley girl, and inner-city slang" (and who tell him on more than one occasion after hearing him speak in full sentences that he "talks like a fag"), Wilson manages to get one man, Frito (Dax Shepard) to tell him of a Time Machine. Bauers obviously assumes that technology has advanced to the point where time travel is a reality, but, alas, runs into many obstacles trying to find his way back home. I won’t give any spoilers here, but suffice it to say Joe and Rita don’t have a lot of smooth sailing in trying to succeed in 2505, or return to the present.

The film is smart, funny, and a relatively short 84 minutes. Judge, as he has in his other projects, doesn’t lay it on too thick and mock the future Americans for their stupidity. Indeed, it seems as if he has pity on them, since they can’t be held accountable for their IQ, and Judge sort of celebrates their stupidity rather than mock them for it.
See this movie. Aside form the things mentioned above, it’s funny, and that alone should be enough to merit killing an hour and a half. The fact that the movie makes you think a little, or perhaps makes you just a wee bit uneasy, is just a bonus.