It’s telling that the Beastie Boys are pictured with instruments on the cover of Check Your Head, their third album. Constantly searching and evolving, the group put more of an emphasis on using live instrumentation, bringing in much more of the punk, rock, and soul/funk roots that colored their childhood. If Paul’s Boutique is (arguably) the “best” Beastie Boys album, then Check Your Head is my favorite Beastie Boys album, the one that made me fall in love with the band.
The more rap-inflected songs continues to press with complex and twisted deliveries, set against increasingly complex and twisted musical backgrounds. But where Check Your Head really shines in my opinion is the blending of those songs with the more experimental pieces. Whether it’s the early Can mantra building of “Lighten Up” or the way the hardcore punk of “Time For Livin'” recalls the earliest recordings even as lyrically it balances with the spiritualism Yauch had embracing at this point. Then there’s the way that fury juxtaposes with the smooth cool psychedelic swirl of “Something’s Got to Give.” Even the straight up Jimmy Smith inspired funk of “POW” finds a way to organically integrate with the more rap-inflected jams of “Stand Together” and “The Maestro.”
By the time we get to the final tracks, the swinging “In 3’s” and the haze cloud that is “Namaste” it’s hard to say Beastie Boys should even be labeled rap anymore. Label them whatever you want, then step back and groove to Check Your Head and see why the title is so appropriate, especially if you listening in the dark on headphones.