When the Beastie Boys picked up their rock-band instruments for the first time since their hardcore punk days to cut the material for 1992's Check Your Head, the idea of an album stocked with hip-hop-inflected instrumental funk jams was an oddity. And it felt singularly Beasties-like in the heady Grand Royal days that followed, continuing through 1994's Ill Communicationand culminating in the fleetingly enjoyable 1996 comp The In Sound from Way Out!
With The Mix-Up, their new attempt to recapture the vibe of tracks like "Sabrosa" and "Ricky's Theme," there are just two catches: One, those earlier instrumentals worked much better as brief interstitials between the actual rap cuts; and two, in their absence, the Beastie Boys' monopoly on N.Y.C. rap-cat instrumental funk has been smashed to pieces by far tighter units like the El Michels Affair and the Budos Band. The Beasties sound rusty by comparison: Mike D's percussion comes across like he's randomly trying to find new beats between the one and the two, while MCA plays bass like he's following the rhythm through the wall of the next room over.
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PR scuttlebutt says The Mix-Up is supposed to be a "post-punk" album, which might excuse some of the sound's demo-take slackness; Adrock's saw-toothed psych guitar on "14th St. Break" and the abrasive dub effects on "Suco De Tangerina" help justify the tag. But the majority of the record seems intended as an extension of their Latin-, funk- and jazz-hued early-'90s instrumental jams—though aside from the atypically clean-sounding opener "B for My Name" and the monstrous Money Mark keyboard workout "The Cousin of Death," it comes off more like a contraction. As the product of a few guys screwing around with lo-fi dance-rock, it's diverting enough (and given how To the 5 Boroughsturned out, it sure beats hearing them rap), but the Beasties are more than one short of a Gang of Four.