Thursday, November 1, 2007

No. 217: Licensed To Ill

Band: The Beastie Boys
Album: Licensed To Ill
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of Rick Rubin's biggest triumphs, "Licensed To Ill" samples heavily from hard rock while still remaining a rap record. IT was the group's debut album and something of a coming out party for the group.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: While it defined the group's early style, that style is really annoying.
Best song: "Brass Monkey" is kind of fun, if sexist.
Worst song: "Girls" is stupid, though you could say that about a lot of songs on the album.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

The Beastie Boys, now, are something of model liberal citizens. They're Buddhists who work for peace in Tibet and they're the type of vegetarians that'll harass you about eating a hamburger. I imagine they get their news from NPR.

But, remember when I said "I've never met a big-time Beasties fan who wasn't a complete idiot?" Let me expand on that. The humor in the Beastie Boys relies upon a snarky, adolescent-type of humor. It's slightly above the poop and dick jokes of Green Day, but it's still the "hey, look at me!" of a child's comic routine.

Anyway, for some reason, the Beastie Boys appeal to idiots especially and frat-boy types in particular. The kind of people who call things they don't like "fucking bullshit" a lot. The kind of people who love "Entourage" because they think "it's totally like my life."

Anyway, while the Beasties are now the type of people who read The Nation and watch "This American Life," their appeal to idiots is because they once were those people. "Licensed To Ill" was originally called "Don't Be A Faggot," but the label wouldn't distribute it with such a title. They've since apologized, but, this record is really just a big frat-rock record.

(I understand this isn't necessarily the way it was meant to be received; Rick Rubin was a metal head and used what he knew. Even the metal-y songs were largely parodies of heavy metal's 80s excesses, specifically "No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn" and the classic "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)." Nevertheless, the record was received as sincere and remains as such.)


If you take it as parody -- as the Beasties claim it was, which I believe, at least -- the record is pretty clever. "Brass Monkey" is patently ridiculous and "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)" is similarly stupid. "No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn" does metal in silly tones, as well. "Girls" sounds like what it is: A big joke.

Rubin's production is -- along with the Beasties' snark -- is the defining trait of the record. "Rhymin' & Stealin'" is sort of strange in that Rubin's metal fetish here combines two classic metal songs (the beat from "When The Levee Breaks" and the guitar riff from Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf"). "She's Crafty" is odd, largely because the main sample is, strangely, Zeppelin's "The Ocean" and it doesn't totally fit. Rubin's metal background works sometimes in hip hop (Jay-Z's "99 Problems"), but needs a great MC for it to work.

And, quite frankly, it's hard to claim the Beasties as great MCs. And "Licensed to Ill" isn't a great record.

No comments: