So many acts come out with a single album that goes big, and then you never really hear from them again. After the Beastie Boys hit the big time with “Licensed to Ill”, it wouldn’t have been hard to envision that scenario with their novel sound. In contrast, they continued to expand their skills and diversified their sound, delivering an entirely different but even more creative record in “Check Your Head”. Critical reception to this record was oddly mixed, but it really is a top-notch release and is the #261 rated album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Returning to their roots as punk band with a much richer slice of funk, and they play almost all of their own instruments on this record, with Ad-Rock on guitar, MCA on bass, and Mike D on drums along with their instantly recognizable vocals. The tracks are usually rounded out with Money Mark on keyboards and the sharp production of Mario Caldato, Jr. The proficiency of their self-performed music was really impactful for me, as this is a tight band that knows their trade well.
The centerpiece of this album is my all-time favorite Beastie Boys song, “So What’Cha Want”. Laying down a brutal drum beat behind a recurring organ riff, the perfectly caustic blast of this song has always fired me up. It also is one of my favorite music videos of the ‘90s, and it completely captures the personality and attitude of this unique trio.
There isn’t a single song on this album that I don’t really like, but two that really stand out to me are the instrumental tracks “Groove Holmes” and “In 3’s”. If you played me either one, especially the first one, and asked me who the performing artist was, I would have probably guessed the Meters. And I assure you, that is about as high a praise I can give any artist laying down the funk.
Back to their more traditional jarring punk rap, “Pass the Mic” and “The Maestro” are two of the best on this album. This entire record is so creative in its blend of songs; I only wish I had spent more time appreciating it back when it was released. My neighbors may end up not loving this album, but I’m pretty sure this one is coming back out the next time the sound system is getting a late-night workout.