Ill Communication (Capitol)

The Beastie Boys

By Mark Clark

It rises from your speaker cabinet like a cobra dancing in a wicker basket -- the slam-crack drums, the fuzz-thump bass, the zippa-scratch of the turntable, the soulful whistle of the flute . . .

Back up. Did he say flute?

Sure, the flute is probably the last instrument you would expect to hear in a rap song, but the track in question isn't just any rap tune. It's "Sure Shot," the opening cut of the latest album from the Beastie Boys, who aren't just any rap band.

For going on a decade, the Beasties have been the torchbearers of hip-hop innovation. Ill Communication finds them in their usual place among other rappers -- way out in front.

Into the 20 cuts on this 59-minute disc, the Boys cram more cool grooves and cutting lyrics than most other rappers generate in a career. The chameleonic Beastie sound this outing is lighter, yet more bottom-heavy than the quasi-thrash approach of their last album, 1992's Check Your Head.

Ill Communication is similar in tone to the group's breezy second album, Paul's Boutique, only with a lot fewer samples and a lot more exotic instruments. Various tracks incorporate everything from the already mentioned flute to a Hammond B-3 organ to chants by Tibetan monks. Several tunes boast a retro-70s wah-wah guitar sound. It's certainly an odd mix, but one that works seamlessly. If nothing else, the Beasties can boast that they have never recorded two albums that sound alike.

Not that there aren't plenty of Beasties trademarks here. For one thing, there's the laundry list of names dropped. The fellas manage to work in the names of everyone from Shaquille O'Neal to John Holmes to Elvis Costello to Darth Vader. There's no shortage of hilarious lyrical turns, either -- some of them incorporating those names. Movie and sports fans, check out this inspired line: "I got more action than my man John Woo/And I'm crankin' out hits like Rod Carew."

However, some of the album's most satisfying tracks don't have lyrics at all. Ill Communication includes six instrumentals, each of them with a distinctive sound and all of them kickin'.

I suppose it's worth mentioning that "Sabotage," the album's first single, kicks butt and takes names. But then so does "Root Down," "Get It Together," "Flute Loop" (that's right, more flute), "Bodhisattva Vow" and, well, everything else included here. As a matter of fact, the only drawback to owning Ill Communication is that it's impossible to skip right to your favorite tracks. They will all be your favorite.

Some artists are touched with genius. The Beasties received full body massages in it. Ill Communication is the proof.