THE BEASTIE BOYS
“Fifty cups of coffee and you know it's on!” Yass, yass, haute smokin' sassafras, an' if'n de nex' 22 jamz on de bran-van-plank-spankin'/shockin'-de-funky-funky Brass Monkey bawlsy new Beastie Boys elpee all ain't quite up to/down wit' dat particular rib-ticklin' openin' line, den cue up dat-dem-D.A.R.E. whoopee cushion/inflated pork bladder, Pigmeats, 'cuz dis iz one o' dose instant paarrrtty! 'n yo pants kinda wreckkuds in full FX mode, kool mo' dee. And, yea verily, much like the jive-talkin' (obligatory '70s reference) gibberish that makes up the previous sentence and much of this one, Hello Nasty is cybernaughty but nicely designed to reveal hidden sonik depths with every repeat-repeat listening/reading.
This album entered the Billboard charts at No. 1, shifting some 680,000-plus units its first week out, and when you add those figures to the fax that the almost palpable aura of hipgnosity emanating from these three clowns' collective corner orifices helped land custom labelmates Luscious Jackson a Gap TV spot and made Yoko Ono's kid out to be somethin' more than just a biz marquee name playa, it's EZ 2 C Y the Beastie Boys are jest 'bout bulletproof to the slings 'n' eros of all the legions of sartorially challenged rock critics who're currently ego-tripping out on their own oxymoron, including this Mr. Plus One. No bout adoubt it, the “Beastly Boys” – as dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry calls 'em on the fade of “Dr. Lee, PhD,” his collaboration with the hip triptych that's heard here – are too white, too old-school, and (in the Ultimate Fighting Challenge) too smart to do anything but act the holy fools who threw two slack-grooved instros (“Sneakin' Out the Hospital” and “Song for Junior”), a taste of reggae toasting (“Flowin' Prose”) and several song-oriented, laid-back vocal weirdities into tha mix just for flava.
“Intergalactic” (all low-fi techno), “Dedication” (all goof-squat shout-outs) and “Three MC's and One DJ” (all that the title implies) might be the album's best clutter-busting moves, but mostly these one-fingered court gestures wisely shtick to the stoopid-fresh rhymes, oceans of obscure samples and the usual musical guest list that made 1992's Check Your Head and 1994's Ill Communication so popular in these daze of whine 'n' poses. If songwriter-producers Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller were making all those famous Coasters records of yesteryear today, they'd be doing all the vocals themselves – and they'd sound very much like the Beastie Boys.
Tribu Kemistri (Yikes)
“Our culture is rich/This is what we should promote/We should not forget our roots” – yuck, how corny can you get? If Mike Hanopol sang in English, I might hate his record. What with all the aboriginal-cave-painting cover art, I was dreading National Geographic tedium. So I was pleasantly surprised when so much of Hanopol's Tribu Kemistri wound up pushing my buttons like an international hit parade instead – the real vocal star is high-reaching Mina Ragasa, whose Middle Eastern-like mixture of Donna Summer, Madonna and Gloria Estefan is truly something to behold. And the actual hit single, since it comes in two different versions, is probably “Buhay Seaman,” which also has my favorite translation: It's apparently a lament about how you'll miss your family in the Navy unless you carry a phone card, but at least you can always drink beers.
Starting in the early '70s, Hanopol led the seminal Filipino band Juan de la Cruz, who helped spawn a local rock scene based in native tongues and rhythms. They became Southeast Asia's first Tagalog-singing rock stars by opening for Led Zep and Pink Floyd, so it's no surprise that the merger with traditional styles on Hanopol's belated U.S.-debut disc adds up to a kind of prog rock – of 11 tracks, eight exceed six minutes, and most push seven. But despite their length, they rarely turn cold like prog: The sole English-recited cut, “I Will See,” sounds more or less like early Genesis, but its minimal strums and lonely lyrics exude an extremely pretty shimmer.
Hanopol got Manila's big rock, jazz and classical names to help him out, and the Philippines are a polyglot Muslim-Catholic-Buddhist-Hindu melting pot in the first place, so eclecticism is a given, and not always a plus – Tribu Kemistri is not without its dull “fusiony” and “folksy” parts. But more often there's tribal percussion and gongs and bells and flutes and strings made of bamboo and wood and animal skins. The two biggest rhythmic triumphs are “Singkil,” 11 obsessively curdling minutes of Bali-gamelan-repetitive trance that almost works as an organic version of electronic German rock, and the aforequoted “Kultura,” African bongos and congas funking it up under purple-rain distortion appropriately credited to Peter Wetherbee's “Minneapolis guitar.” The title cut opens with what sounds like a bunch of people throwing a seashore laundry party, comparing detergent tips until the heavy feedback kicks in; “Aahon Ka (Night Nurse)” is more ambient, a mesh of bird chatter and bamboo shooting toward the sun. And almost every song has a layer of romantic soprano deserted-desert-after-dessert “chant vocals” winding through its background, eerie but festive, promoting cultural roots like Gregorian monks on a tropical vacation. (Chuck Eddy)
Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? (Slash/London)
Harvey Danger's “Flagpole Sitta” is the only ditty currently splashed all over KROQ and summer slasher flicks worth its weight in cartwheels. A puddle of sarcasm and irony will form beneath your feet each time this raucous anthem floats onto the stereo – you too will “want to publish zines and rage against machines.” But don't expect more of the same on Harv's debut album, Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? After a flaming tribute to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (“Carlotta Valdez”), the fresh-faced Seattle quartet downshifts dramatically; though enlivened by handclaps and cute choirboy harmonies, the rest of the disc is more anonymous, less exuberant.
Harvey Danger will attract the tortured high school wrist-slashers and slavering college-radio programmers with their patches of Pavement and generous dollops of daydreamy geek guitar. The excruciatingly confessional lyrics about old girlfriends and dying parents become drowsier and drowsier, notably on “Wrecking Ball” and “Radio Silence.” Vocalist Sean Nelson sounds like an introspective version of Green Day's Billie Joe, and enjoys envisioning himself as various inanimate objects: “All I ever wanted to be was a woolly muffler on your naked neck,” he asserts on “Woolly Muffler.” Later, he feels “like a zero drowning in a sea of higher numbers” (“Terminal Annex”).
All this moony longing aside, there's something innocent about Harvey Danger's music, tiptoeing as it does between precocious angst and uncalculated, self-deprecating charm. They don't sound altogether naive, but perhaps the sophomore disc will be heavier on the rocket fuel, lighter on the wistful ex-girlfriend noodlings.
Situation: Critical (Strictly Rhythm)
A friend of mine once told me that all he needed to get off on the dance floor was a screamin' black woman and a beat. The nameless sister-girl he was referring to could easily be a lung-heavy house-music icon like Martha Wash or Adeva, or the remixed “I got the spirit in me” holler fests of R&B mamas like Chaka Khan and Patti Labelle. The point is, in the wee hours of a clubland morn, nothing jolts the soul quite like a seasoned disco diva who, mighty of voice and short on subtlety, roars gloriously above a cacophonous symphony of drum machines, blaring synths and wall-jarring bass.
Which is why I don't get all the hype surrounding Ultra Nate. Ultra (her real name) wrote most of the songs that make up her new album, Situation: Critical, with house producers Lem Springsteen and D-Influence alternating production credits. The problem is, dance-music artists and producers should stick to what they do best – making dance music. Instead, Situation: Critical features a hodgepodge of lukewarm R&B-driven tunes that are fortunately propped up by a couple of pop-savvy dance tracks. It should be the other way around, but Ultra, like many dance-music artists before her, hastens to graze in the greener, broader pastures of pop and R&B, and inadvertently highlights her own limitations instead of achieving the sought-after crossover appeal.
Ultra opens the album down-tempo and sluggish with the appropriately titled “Situation: Critical” and proceeds to tread into even murkier waters with “A New Kind of Medicine.” But the infectious club anthem “Free” rescues her, with Ultra ordering us – above some righteous backup vocals – to be free and “do whatcha want to do.” Along with “Found a Cure” and “Love You Can't Deny,” Ultra manages to remind us that her roots are in dance. Which is not such a bad thing.