Check Your Head (20th Anniversary Edition)
Capitol / Grand Royal, 2009
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/16/2009
It’s a given that Paul’s Boutique is a masterpiece and probably the Beastie Boys’ defining moment. But honestly, it took Check Your Head to turn a lot of listeners on to Paul’s Boutique. In many ways, the two albums complemented each other, in much the same way that Radiohead’s OK Computer lured listeners back to picking up their then-neglected album The Bends.
If you could trace the Beastie Boys’ maturation by way of drug intake, it would go something like this: Licensed to Ill was the Beastie Boys on Spanish Fly and a lot of Schlitz, Paul’s Boutique was their Beatles-like acid discovery trip and Check Your Head was the Beastie Boys on a lot of kind bud. But Check Your Head was far more than just a great stoner album. And while Capitol’s double-disc remastered version of Check Your Head doesn’t offer any particular revolutionary insight into their excellent album, it does give you a great excuse to revisit the album and marvel at the band’s ability to drastically reinvent themselves three times over while retaining their core prankster charm.
Arguably, the only flaw of Paul’s Boutique was its timing: it was released about nine years too early. The same can’t be said for Check Your Head. The year 1992, of course, was marked by the return of no-frills rock thanks to the likes of Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam. And Check Your Head was the first full-length Beastie Boys album where the band picked up their instruments and rocked out. In most other cases, this could have been a crass marketing ploy for relevance, except that the album was recorded before much of this “grunge” fad took off, and the album sounded like a genuine evolution of the band’s sound.
Check Your Head marked a maturing of the band not just in sound, but also in the lyric department. Sure, there was still the humorous sampling of Cheap Trick’s At Budokan, Good Times and an out-of-the-blue sample of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” But the humor is far from the anti-PC antics that populated much of Licensed to Ill and sections of Paul’s Boutique. While none but the most serious of feminists would be offended by “Hey Ladies,” you’d be hard pressed to find an offensive song off of Check Your Head.
Unfortunately, Check Your Head marked the end of the Beastie Boys’ drastic evolutionary period. Their next album, Ill Communication, was probably a great stand-alone album except for the fact that you couldn’t help but feel like for the first time, the band was treading water, solely because the band wasn’t reinventing itself yet again. Their next album, the hugely successful Hello Nasty, was an even bigger letdown because it went on about 30 minutes longer than it should have and seemed to be an almost calculated mixture of everything that worked for the Beastie Boys’ last four albums.
So, if your copy of Check Your Head isn’t skipping, does the remastered version merit another purchase? Sadly, no. While the packaging is certainly glossy and beautiful, the bonus disc contains versions and remixes ranging from standard to pretty good of songs from Check Your Head. The only songs that truly stand out are the b-sides “Boomin’ Granny” and “The Skills to Pay the Bills.” Capitol might have been wiser to follow their fairly minimalist treatment of the remastered Paul’s Boutique and kept their commemoration to one CD and included the two unreleased b-sides plus “Netty’s Girl” and “Drunken Praying Mantis Style” for good measure. But the remastered version of Check Your Head does give Gen-Xers and hopefully a few Gen-Yers a chance to nostalgically look back at a time where a band’s resurgent popularity came from word of mouth from fans and overly enthusiastic record store clerks, and not from blogs.