Pop Life

Retro Active: Remembering the Speed Trials Album

So, just in time for its 20th anniversary, the Beastie Boys' landmark Paul's Boutique album is gonna be reissued in a deluxe, remastered edition. As we all know, the album is masterpiece of sampling technique, unencumbered by the prospect of litigation and emboldened by a true sense of sonic adventure. That, and it will forever and always be the most effective mating call of ballcap-clad dudes seeking drunken last-call liaisons.

While this news inspired some doting on the enormity of Boutique's impact, what Retro Active's mind quickly turned to was long-muddled memories of one of the Beasties' earliest vinyl appearances, the 1984 Speed Trials album. Documenting a five-night New York music festival that went down in 1983, Speed Trials put the then-hardcore-playing Beasties in the mix with, uh, Swans, Sonic Youth, the Fall, Live Skull, Lydia Lunch and other denizens of the downtown skronk scene.

If the thought of seeing any of these shows today sends I-wish-I-coulda-been-there chills down your spine, check out these two salient facts: 1) the shows were only $4 apiece; and, 2) they were mostly terrible. The very fact that the Beasties' "Egg Raid on Mojo" (with future Luscious Jackson member Kate Schellenbach on drums) is one of the strongest cuts on Speed Trials should tell you something.

"Weakling" amazingly manages to deliver exactly zero of the menace for which early Swans music was so rightfully known, while Sonic Youth's "Dig This!" is a horrible, self-indulgent montage. Speaking of self-indulgent, did I mention that Lydia Fucking Lunch is on this?

Thankfully, though, the cuts by a pre-Thalia Zedek Live Skull and the long-forgotten Toy Killers are pretty strong, and along with the Beasties, the Fall (who, even in '83, phoned it in better than most bands who put forth an effort) and the skittery jazz-noise of Carbon and Elliott Sharp help keep Speed Trials from being more than just a discographical oddity. - Jason Ferguson 

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Jason Ferguson