Check Your Head [30th Anniversary Edition]
Check Your Head is the gateway between the Beastie Boys’ distant hardcore-punk past and their future. It’s the transitional album between the unbound surround-sound sampladelic of Paul’s Boutique (their masterpiece) and everything instrumental (Ill Communication, Hello Nasty, etc.) in its wake. It’s the vision of Ad-Rock, Mike D, and MCA moving beyond hip-hop and into the Lollapalooza-bound alterna-nation.
How this got to be 30 years old and out-of-print for a time is freaky, as Check Your Head was the gritty album that pushed the Beasties back into the Top 10 for the first time since their classic debut Licensed to Ill, and the one that proved they had musical chops in bossa nova, angular jazz, heavy metal, fuzztone garage, funky folk, and unslick soul beyond their smartly snarky raps. In fact, for Check Your Head, the focus becomes the live sonic vibe. Teamed with then-new co-producer/percussionist Mario Caldato Jr. and keyboardist Money Mark, the still-un-scrubbed Beasties trio made a dirtball brand of insistently stewing lo-fi mixed-bag skronk—think the lyrical jams of “So What’cha Want,” “Finger Lickin’ Good,” and “Pass the Mic,” or the deeply reverent paean to Hammond B3 organists everywhere, “Groove Holmes.”
More of a Californian album (where it was recorded) than its NYC-produced debut, having Mike D on drums, Ad-Rock on guitar, and MCA on bass may have harkened back to their hardcore days. Though there’s enough scratching to make a man itch, “The Maestro” certainly feels more ramshackle-punkfunk than anything the Red Hot Chili Peppers could have accomplished. And yet, the Fender Rhodes–filled tickle of the music of “Namaste”—Los Angeleno wah-wah-filled lounge jazz—and its whispered lyrics could pass for latter-day stoner Chet Baker.
The mixed-vibe Check Your Head reissue gets the (Grand) royal treatment it deserves by stretching the original double album into four LPs with remixes (the ragga-fied “Dub the Mic (Instrumental)” and an eerily-extended “Pass the Mic (Pt. 2, Skills to Pay the Bills)”), crusty live versions (“Stand Together” from a tavern in Sydney, Australia, “Gratitude” from the Cheap Trick–famous Budokan), B-side rarities, and a fabric wrapped/stamped/hardcovered case. For a record so dirty, Check Your Head really cleaned up nice.