Ever since the Beastie Boys' 1984 License to Ill shot to the top of the charts with its snot-nosed appropriation of black rap and its "Fight for Your Right to Party" frat-dork anthem, critics have been waiting for these self-exiled New Yorkers to slip up -- to take some misstep that would reveal them once and for all as pretenders to the rap throne. Then the boys released the overlooked masterpiece Paul's Boutique, and suddenly white rap had gone pomo, sampling '70s funk pre-Ice Cube. The Beasties still weren't pretending. In 1992 came Check Your Head, and there were the Beasties playing their own damn funk, on live instruments, and if there remained any critics who failed to see the grab-bag creativity at work, it was they who were revealed as soulless pretenders.
Ill Communication is, according to the flood of front-cover press, the product of a new Beastie Boys -- a now firmly L.A.-based outfit with its own magazine (Grand Royal), its own clothing line (X-Large) and an expansive funk sense that rivals, in its own punk rock fashion, P-Funk.
The samples are ever more obscure (Eugene McDaniels, John Klemmer, Jeremy Steig, anyone?), the guest appearances ever more credible (Biz Markie, A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip) and the mix ever more eclectic, from the classic Beasties stomp of the first single, "Sabotage," to the silky instrumental groove of "Sabrosa" to the plenty-convincing hardcore slam of "Tough Guy." The music's all over the stylistic map, but at the same time nailed down to that territory where comparisons are tempting but, in the face of the Beasties' encompassing insularity, entirely mute.
-- Brad Tyer
The Living End
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I'm at odds with the record-buying public on the question of ex-Husker Bob Mould's solo career. I think his two bargain-bin solo albums worked, largely because they were quiet, ominous, slightly confused reflections of the emotional state he apparently was in at the time. Now, with his popular new power trio, Sugar, Mould seems to be trying for that old Husker speed-pop feel again. Only Mould doesn't seem particularly angry, and without that energy, the new songs have about as much personality as a power chord.
Mould was plenty angry on the tour that provided the cuts collected here. Husker Du, one of punk rock's first commercial hopes, was splintering under the pressures of a major-label contract, bitter personality conflicts, burned-out creativity, ugly drug habits, the band manager's suicide and God knows what else. The tour -- supporting Warehouse: Songs and Stories, the band's final album -- would turn out to be the Huskers' last. Everything falls apart.
And falling apart is what Husker Du always did best anyway. They never failed to focus long enough to punch you in the face and wring your gut, but they always went over the edge sooner or later. The Living End sounds like the Huskers going all the way for the last time.
-- Brad Tyer