The Beastie Boys' first three albums each redefined pop music, and Ad Rock, Mike D and MCA haven't known what to do since. Ill Communication simply copied the sarcastic live hip-hop of Check Your Head and wound up perfectly in sync with the Lollapalooza zeitgeist. But the electronic experimentation of 1998's Hello Nasty was a failed attempt to get ahead of the times. So on To the 5 Boroughs, the Beasties (above right) retreat to the three-MCs-and-one-DJ goofiness of their beginning. Yet like most trips back to the future, it's not that easy: Nearing forty, with political consciences to ease, their unimaginative Bush-bashing makes them sound less like yesterday's fiery young men than today's bitter old ones. But the trio's familiar Noo Yawk whine remains as distinctive as any in music, and it's good to have it back. After more than a decade of looking outward -- to Los Angeles, Tibet and beyond -- the boys have turned their focus back to the Big Apple with songs like "An Open Letter to NYC," a moving tribute to the city that notes, "Two towers down/But you're still in the game." Somehow, so are the Beasties.
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