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Absent an anthem

June 13, 2004|Dean Kuipers

Beastie Boys

"To the 5 Boroughs"

(Grand Royal / Capitol)

** 1/2

"Having fun in troubled times," is how Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) describes this love letter to post-Sept. 11 New York City, the trio's first album of originals since 1998's "Hello Nasty." But only a few towering tracks save this album, which gets mired somewhere between agitprop and old-school mike battling.

The Boys can still tap deep into the roots of hip-hop and pull up a crusher, as on the lead track, "Ch-Check It Out," sort of a slicker, faster, gargantuan version of their own earlier boroughs-bred Run-DMC-inspired hollers, built on isolated funk drum breaks. And "Triple Trouble" feeds off the TV-theme energy that made "Sabotage" a singular innovation, a blaxploitation spinout with an Isaac Hayes-type keyboard bass figure and heavy cowbell propulsion sure to rattle the windows in the hooptie.

Most of the other songs, however, feel about two-thirds there, though there are innovations -- the Gary Numan-meets-Slick Rick approach of "Rhyme the Rhyme Well" and the J5-Black Eyed Peas positivity of "Time to Build."

But one of the best parts of being Beastie is those great buzzwords -- "no sleep till Brooklyn," "fight for your right to party," "put your root down" -- and there's none of that here. With no anthem to give it all some sense, calling out George W. Bush in half the songs and sucka MCs in the rest is simply not enough.

-- Dean Kuipers

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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