Beastie Down, Part 4: The Sounds of Science

Four and three and two and one….

It was easy, exciting to be a Beastie Boys fan in the wake of Hello Nasty. The B-boys were popping up everywhere, making animated cameos in the primetime cartoon Futurama, debuting a batshit crazy video for “Body Movin’” on MTV’s Total Request Live, and performing “Radio, Radio” with Elvis Costello for Saturday Night Live’s 25th anniversary special. 

I came home one day after school and MTV was airing a Beastie Boys performance live from Glasgow, Scotland. I was hypnotized, green with envy of those Scots moshing and slamming with the Beasties on stage, live and in person. A couple of dreams were born that day. I had to see this band perform live. I also had to get a pair of my own turntables. Whatever Mix Master Mike was doing behind the decks – I wanted to do it! He was making 12” vinyl discs make sounds I’d never heard before. He was also rocking a party like I’d never seen. 

If I could do half of whatever Mix Master was doing, I figured I’d be pretty cool, too.

Later that year I got my first job, working in a mail room of a school supplies office with one of my friends everyday after school. I saved every penny I made. My eyes were on a DJ starter kit that came with two shitty Gemini turntables, a mixer, and an instructional VHS cassette. I had no fucking clue what I was doing. I was also way in over my head. I had no proper stereo receiver and was running my mixer through an auxiliary cord into a big screen TV. I didn’t burn down the house or blow up the TV, but I got inspired to start making some music of my own. The Beastie Boys were doing more than making great records to listen to, they were inspiring me to get out of my own insecurities, start believing in myself, and try something scary.

I also had a bullshit mic that was made out of plastic.

Before the millennium closed down, the Beastie Boys (or their label, Capitol Records) were intent on cementing the Beastie legacy, and announced the release of The Beastie Boys Anthology: The Sounds of Science. The two-disc set was to be packed with forty-two tracks, collecting their greatest hits, a few deep cuts, b-sides, select unreleased tracks, and [gasp] a new single, “Alive.” Plenty to be stoked about. 

Four years prior, the Beatles took the idea of an anthology mainstream with a multi-part prime time network special, accompanied by three separate volumes of demos and outtakes. The music provided an insight into how the band and their songs evolved from ideas and into final products. Not just over the span of years, but in the span of a song. The collection was loose, raw, unrefined. It put their entire previous output in another context. I remember waiting in line at a record store for the clock to hit midnight so I could be one of the first people to buy the Beastie anthology.

Somehow, someway, my unhinged fandom wasn’t inflated by the release.

I put on disc one as I drove home that night. I had already heard the greatest hits a million times. I knew the deep cuts inside and out. The handful of unreleased tracks were mostly inside jokes.  And then there’s “Alive.” 

The B-boys had forged their names on unabashed declarations. They had demanded their generation fight for their right to party, drink tons of brass monkey, and weren’t afraid to apologize on record for all the meathead behavior in hindsight. They turned from punks to pimps to skaters to monks before our eyes — never dropping their conviction that they were in fact the coolest three emcees to walk the earth. But this anthology feels like Mike and Adam and Adam taking their foot off the pedal, doing something that wasn’t 100% Beastie down.

The shortcomings of “Alive” sum up most of what is wrong with the anthology. The boys don’t feel fierce, the rhymes feel predictable. The beats don’t hit hard. Let’s forget about the vision of them each wearing a primary color, riding vespas, and wearing furry sherpa hoods in the video. The Beastie Boys had never tried to be cool before, they just were cool. Nothing felt cool about “Alive.” At the towering height of my Beastie fandom, I was never compelled to listen to the song on repeat, let alone the anthology.

The rest of the compilation feels as forced as “Alive.” All the album tracks I’d heard before felt out of place. “Sabotage” will never feel right without leading into the grunts and groans of Q-Tip on “Get it Together.” I was happy a couple of b-sides like “Boomin’ Granny” and “Skills to Pay the Bills” got some exposure to more casual fans – but for the devoted disciple like myself, there was little else to dig into. Aside from “Alive,” the most enticing offerings were the unreleased recordings, which, save for a couple songs, were hardly more than fluff. One solace was a booklet offering unseen photos and stories behind each song, straight from the band. 

I still don’t know what to make of the most audacious inclusions on the anthology — two tracks from the Beastie Boys’ shelved album, Country Mike’s Greatest Hits. Somewhere in the downtime between Ill Communication and Hello Nasty, Mike D fronted a country album recorded by the band, who enlisted the great Bucky Baxter on pedal steel guitar. Beastie lore indicates that a few copies were pressed for friends of the band, before it was widely bootlegged on vinyl. The pocket is tight on these songs, but Mike D sounds like a wounded bird crowing the frontier blues. Country Mike’s first and only album is funny, befuddling, and could have only come from a band that has no problem laughing at themselves.


Listening to the anthology now, almost twenty years later, it remains a missed opportunity to my ears. The compilation displays the wide swath of styles the Beastie Boys have approached over time, instead of how all of their singular ideas germinated. False takes, alternate recordings, and live cuts would have explored the true growth of the band instead of standing as a Spark Notes of all things Beastie. For all of my quibbles, The Sounds of Science stands as a feasible representation of the band for fans that aren’t going to dive to the bottom of Davy Jones’ locker for b-boy minutiae.

Looking at the cover of The Beastie Boys Anthology, Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA are dressed up as old men, as seen in the “Ricky’s Theme” video. The three were still firmly in their thirties, but perhaps comfortable with their place in the musical world for the first time. They had nothing left to prove, and I’m guessing didn’t feel the need to ever reinvent themselves again. Was this picture, this vision of them as spry elders a statement? Were they content to ride off into the sunset from here? Either way, they no longer needed validation, and never set about seizing it again. The Beastie Boys were going to be adored by their generation forevermore. Why fuck with that? (And why record and release “Alive”?)

The new millennium hit a month later and the world didn’t end. It would be too early to expect a new Beastie Boys album, but they announced a co-headlining tour with Rage Against the Machine. Rage and the Beastie Boys were the only two mainstream bands to respectably meld rock n’ roll with rap in the late-nineties. Yeah, Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit and others were doing it, but that “goatee metal rap” (as Ad-rock deemed it in “Alive”) was a passing phase. Rage was three albums deep into an enigmatic existence of their own and would pair perfectly with the Beasties every night. Two bands that nearly everyone respected. Can’t miss.

The good news: I could drive to the show with a number of my friends. I bought tickets, and days before the tour started, the bad news: Mike D broke his arm in a bicycle crash. Then, Rage Against the Machine broke up. The tour never happened, and the Beastie Boys wouldn’t embark on another tour or release another album for nearly four years.

A dark age began.

The saga continues in Part 5.

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