Ill Communication (Remastered Edition)
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/26/2009
Well before the album ended, many listeners initially deemed Ill Communication to be a bit of a disappointment solely because it didn't represent a tectonic shift in the Beastie Boys' style. Even casual fans know of the band's evolution with their first three full-length albums: the full-out, drunken frat house party crashers on Licensed to Ill took a monumental LSD-type left turn with Paul's Boutique and finally led into a fully capable three-piece band with some serious stoner leanings in Check Your Head.
There were few albums that benefited more from the passage of time than Ill Communication. I was one of the people who were disappointed that the band didn't take the opportunity that the early-90s offered them to reinvent themselves yet again. Though I vowed to go back to Ill Communication, real life intervened. It started in 1998 when Hello Nasty came out; that album was so dense that I kept listening to it in hopes of finally digesting it as a whole (it never happened). Then the music scene kept changing at a head-spinning pace for most of this decade. All the while, Ill Communication continued to collect dust through at least eight different moves to different apartments and eventually a condo.
No more excuses, though. Capitol continues its rerelease of the Beastie Boys collection with its remastered release of Ill Communication. The first thing that hit me after listening to Ill Communication after nearly a decade of not picking up the album was a great sense of nostalgia. While the band remained content in refining the loose, live instrument feel of Check Your Head, the timing of Ill Communication's release was impeccable. It was released right in the frenzy of other high-profile albums like Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral, Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and Hole's Live Through This. Newer acts like Green Day and Beck were also tearing up the charts. It was also released on the cusp of Woodstock '94. Though the Beastie Boys had gained some serious momentum with Check Your Head, they had to make a great statement officially be one of the frontrunners of the so-called "alternative nation."
Ill Communication was the sound of a band fully ready to reassume its position of Lollapalooza/Woodstock-capable headliners. The cheeky flute opening of "Sure Shot" ushers in an incredible seven-song stretch. Like a well-orchestrated basketball offense attack, "Sure Shot" showcased the band's nimble side right before "Tough Guy" hammers the listener with the band's aggressive, punkish side. This jazz/punk playoff repeats with the combination of "Root Down" followed by "Sabotage" and later on with "Ricky's Theme" and "Heart Attack Man."
Ill Communication was filled with the Beastie Boys' newfound sense of activism. In "Sure Shot," the line "I want to say something that's long overdue / the disrespect to women has got to be through" is a minor miracle considering the antics of the band during its Licensed to Ill heyday. In "The Update" the band "Gives respect to King and his nonviolent ways." And Buddhist chants dominate "Bodhisattva Vow." Still, even for some topics, the band could find its prankster side. "Legalize the weed and I'll say thank heavens'" is proudly touted in "B-Boys Makin' With the Freak Freak."
At an hour, Ill Communication could have used some trimming, but 15 years later, it's admirable that this is the type of album that used to be known as a "superstar album": a long, sprawling album that wasn't afraid to take risks. Check Your Head may still be the superior album, but the instrumentals on Ill Communications are oftentimes as good if not better than its predecessor. "Ricky's Theme" may still be the band's finest instrumental.
As for the bonuses, Ill Communication easily bests the remastered versions of Check Your Head and Paul's Boutique for added goodies. The remixes, especially The Prunes' treatment of "Root Down" and "Sure Shot" are among some of these best remix treatments of any Beastie Boys songs. If any of Capitol's Beastie Boys reissues merits a purchase, it's Ill Communication. But for those cash-strapped folks who can't afford to buy the same album twice, if you haven't given Ill Communication another listen since your college or high school days, now's a perfect excuse to give this underrated, yet triple-platinum album another listen.