From its dozen-plus-year span to the dazzling cover art, the Beasties' Sounds of Science ranks as one of the few singular retrospectives in a musical genre not known for its long-term memory. The two-CD set takes you way back, from their nuevo-punk days in the early '80s ("Egg Raid on Mojo"), up through the funky fusion of their 1998 effort, Hello Nasty. Reflected in the dizzying collection of songs (42 in all) is the Beasties' chimerical ability to work in diverse soundscapes. While most of us were introduced to the Beasties through Rick Rubin's cock-rock production on the 1986 Licensed To Ill ("Slow and Low," "She's on It"), it was 1989's Paul's Boutique where the Beasties came into their own. Songs like "Hey Ladies" and "Shake Your Rump," despite their juvenile themes, were years ahead of the rap game with their dense collages of breakbeat science. The return to punk roots on albums like Check Your Head ("So Whatcha Want") and Ill Communication ("Sabatoge") only hardened the gristle of the band's sonic punch, and with Hello Nasty ("Body Movin'," "Intergalactic") they came back to the underground with an album that made everything from calypso to bossa nova to dub sound lowdown and funky.
What's never changed has been the group's youthful (some might say adolescent) spirit. True, they've outgrown their days of MTV-fueled debauchery, but their three-man-weave rhyme style is still a throwback to the old-school days of the Cold Crush Brothers and house-party harmonizing. Yet despite the lack of lyrical sublimity, the Beasties have managed to avoid obsolescence with a body of work that's allowed itself the room to be silly ("Boomin' Granny"), sophisticated ("Remote Control"), even sanctimonious ("Bodhisattva Vow").
The only letdown with Sounds of Science is that it doesn't include License To Ill's "Paul Revere," the song that best captures the Beasties' unlikely knack for indelible anthems. Though the track seems nothing more than a frat-rap fantasy of cowboys on the hunt for babes, beer and bills (in order of priority), it's the one song from the 1980s whose lyrics every hip-hop junkie remembers in their entirety. Play it at any club and watch people start to chant, "I did it like this, I did it like that, I did it with a whiffle ball bat, sooooo . . .," outing the closet Beasties groupie in us all.
KORN Issues (Epic/Immortal)
Critics are shooting their loads over the new Korn album because, well, it's the new Korn album. It's now official: Korn are at the point where they can do no wrong. Just as interesting as the new record, however, is the relationship the band has with its audience. With scarcely any pre-press or advance promotion to speak of, Issues went gold its first week -- that's one loyal fan base. But, with weekly Webcasts from Korn TV, their animated cameo on an episode of South Park, ad placement in public-transit shelters, etc., does the album's success indicate a rabid core following or an insidious marketing campaign? In a brilliant coup of consumer/content-provider synergy and cross-franchising, Issues comes with a variety of art presentations actually created by the winner and three finalists from the MTV Cover Contest. Collect all four. As of press time, the Korn Happy Meal is still on the drawing board.
With Issues, the Bakersfield five have unleashed a killer slab of heavy grind -- a real meat-'n'-potatoes, back-to-basics Korn album. The sinister keyboards, dark-wave F/X and aggro-meets-dance gestures of '98's Follow the Leader take a back seat this time around, so those hoping for a reprise of that wicked-cool hybrid of metal and New Romantic synth-pop may be disappointed. (But when you get as ill as Head and Munky do with those custom Ibanez seven-strings, who needs Korgs and Rolands?) Opening to the keen of bagpipes over naked whispers of "All I want in life is to be happy," Issues quickly embarks on the story of a brutally dysfunctional upbringing. "Trash" is the clear standout track, and not just because of its spookily quivering synth hook and massive guitar break. Singer Jonathan Davis masterfully lures us inside the head space of a pedophile, rasping, "Their flesh smells so new, and it's there for the taking/These little girls just make me feel so goddamn exhilarated." This won't shock fans, though, as domestic abuse has been a running theme through all Korn's records, and the singer's willingness to stick his battered heart out there for all to gaze upon is no small part of the group's appeal.