For the inaugural post I want to illustrate one of the true classics of BS music reviews. This review comes from Pitchfork in June 2004 and it is Brent DiCrescenzo’s review of The Beastie Boys’ To The Five Boroughs. It isn’t one of the usual hatchet-job from Pitchfork (it’s actually a very respectable 7.9). It is a bit wordy (DiCrescenzo was nothing if not a blowhard) and spends a lot of time dwelling on how a publicist for Nasty Little Man led DiCrescenzo on a wild goose chase across Europe for a promised interview with Radiohead (NLM represents both Radiohead and the Beasties). This review is worth mentioning because Pitchfork had to issue this retraction:
Last Tuesday, June 15th, Pitchfork published a review of the Beastie Boys’ To the 5 Boroughs by Brent DiCrescenzo, a frequent and trusted contributor. In his review, Brent detailed experiences with the Beastie Boys’ public relations firm Nasty Little Man, and its president Steve Martin, over the course of several years. Pitchfork has since determined that a number of DiCrescenzo’s assertions were false, based on corroborated statements from the two parties he claimed were participating in the chain of events referred to in the review. With apologies to Steve Martin and Nasty Little Man, we have retracted the original review in its entirety, and would like to make the following known publicly, to correct any and all falsities perpetrated by Brent’s review:
1) Radiohead were never in Milan in June 1999.
2) Radiohead never moved a concert from Villa Reale in Milan to Monza in 1999, 2000 or otherwise.
3) Steve Martin never “forgot to tell” Brent that the concert was moved, as it was not.
4) Neither Steve Martin, nor anyone working for Nasty Little Man, ever confirmed a Radiohead interview with Brent DiCrescenzo or Pitchfork.
5) Brent DiCrescenzo’s declaration that Steve Martin had not gotten back to him or Mean magazine about a possible Beastie Boys interview after six weeks is untrue: Martin was in constant contact with Mean publisher Kashy Khaledi and editor Andy Hunter throughout that period.
6) Mean magazine never “delayed their publication to accomodate [Martin's] procrastination.” Kashy Khaledi did so of his own volition in order to keep the Beastie Boys cover story Martin had confirmed and saw through with him every step of the way.
7) Steve Martin has never, to Brent DiCrescenzo’s knowledge, “dangled [his] major artists… like carrots to the media in an attempt to blackmail press for features” on less established artists or bands.
Here’s the full text of DiCrescenzo’s review:
Viale Vittorio Veneto, Corso Venezia, Corso Buenos Aires, Viale Piave, and Viale Luigi Majno converge into a clogged traffic circle on the northeastern corner of the Giardini Pubblici in northeastern Milan. Flanked by my overpriced hotel and the park’s Planetario, I punch a 26-
digit number into the red Italian payphone which looks like an EMT heart resuscitator. Fiats and scooters drown the faint, distorted ringing. I check my watch. Is New York five or six hours behind? I have two hours until Clinic goes on before Radiohead.
“Hello, Nasty,” the girl on the phone says.
I ask for the cellular number to Steve Martin, head of Nasty Little Man public relations. I’m supposed to meet him now at Villa Reale for a Radiohead story. They won’t give me the number. It’s private. Right, I know. I flew to another continent to meet him. I need that number.
Villa Reale, a Renaissance mansion, hides a couple copses behind me, and there’s no sign of Steve Martin, or Radiohead, or bleachers, or white semis, or fans, or any other expected Radiohead concert signifiers. They will call Steve and call me back. Look, I’m on a
payphone in Milan, Italy, can you give me the goddam number? They will call Steve for me.
I hang up and watch skaters wipe out on bench grinds. I call back.
Right. Brent D. Milan. Steve. Radiohead. What the fuck.
“Oh, Steve forgot to tell you that the concert was moved to Monza.” Monza is a suburb 30 minutes north of Milan. I had passed it on the train from Frankfurt.
I hang up.
* * *
In one of the first “concept” reviews at Pitchfork, and one of my first for the site in general, I review Hello Nasty. I make some stupid Tibet joke, give it an 8.5, and say:
Hello Nasty is a New York salad– diced beats, trans- oceanic influences, traffic, noise pollution, construction, b-ball speak, bold pop- culture billboards and neon, tossed well in braggadocio.
I always hated that review. I held back. Eventually, Hello Nasty would become my favorite Beastie Boys record because, for a band who had sold tens of millions, it seemed overlooked. As I age I become more and more fascinated by records by artists in the autumn of their careers. I reach for Holland and Lodger before Wild Honey and Hunky Dory.
* * *
After booking an airline and a TriBeCa hotel blocks from the Beastie Boys’ studio on Canal Street, I call my editor at Mean magazine. We discuss the cover story I am to write. The editor envisions an insightful, personal look into the lives of the Beastie Boys that goes beyond the obvious press kit-based fluff pieces. Fantastic, I refuse to take typical approaches, and Mean magazine is run by people from the defunct, excellent Grand Royal magazine, so what better chance? One problem: After six weeks of planning the story, Steve Martin, the Boys’ publicist, has not gotten back to us about the interview. Mean even delayed their publication to accommodate Steve Martin’s procrastination.
The interview is set to take place the next business day, and I’ve cleared two days in New York for the story. I’ve also booked meetings for my film endeavors, but those will just be for five or six hours on Tuesday. Nasty Little Man will call Steve who will call Nasty Little Man back who will call my editor who will call me. Well, I leave for New York tomorrow, so could you work that out? Also, could I get the new album? When writing a cover story about an album, hearing the album typically offers important insight.
Steve Martin, presumably between bites of a Shea Stadium hotdog, initiates his chain of communication. No, the album is under tight security and could Brent please be on call this Tuesday? I’ll call him an hour before he needs to show up at the Canal Street studio. He’ll
get an hour. With two of the three members.
I cancel the story. The Beastie Boys are a 23-year-old rap group. Despite the fact that my entire adolescence revolved around their first three albums, I could care less about squeezing out a mundane magazine piece about their new paean to New York. The city puts its garbage on the sidewalk. “In a World Gone Mad” sucked. The publicist- and press-controlled structure of the entire music industry only allows for trite magazine fluff as ad revenue; access to major artists are dangled like carrots to the media in an attempt to blackmail press for features on nothing bands like Matt Pond, PA and Ultimate Fakebook.
* * *
My night’s schedule cleared, I wander the city of Milan. I shop for a watch in Gucci. I eat gnocchi under the great iron and glass atrium of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. After the meal, I climb to the top of the gargantuan Duomo, a cathedral that appears to have been built by the hand of God reaching down and drizzling wet sand from his fist. In the piazza below, a large concert stage is being constructed. I descend the cathedral and mill about with Italians with prams and cellphones. As twilight spreads, Caetano Veloso, one of my heroes, comes on stage and performs a free set under the stars.
On walks around Manhattan, even on sun-scorched days, mysterious precipitation falls on your head. Whether this comes from urinating birds, air conditioning condensation, observation deck spitting, or suicide jumpers breaking down into their constituent beads of bloody moisture over the long 145-story leaps from skyscrapers, I’ve yet to determine. The Times Square subway station has been under construction for at least four years. The majority of Village eateries I frequent do not accept credit cards. The city tobacconists all spell the first letters of “Smoke Shop” with two pipes, making the storefront signs look more like “Jmoke Jhop.” Garbage is laid out on the sidewalks, as real estate shortages allow for no alleys. The Mormon Temple across from the Lincoln Center has fantastic free peanut butter cookies, if you sit through one of their thinly veiled brainwashing video tours.
None of these elements of New York, which I find more indicative of the town, are mentioned on the Beastie Boys’ To the 5 Boroughs. Instead, Adrock, MCA and Mike D offer obvious demographic and transit information on their “Open Letter to NYC”. “Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latin/ Black, White, New York/ You make it happen,” they croon together on the chorus to the centerpiece of their sixth album. “Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Staten/ From the Battery to the top of Manhattan,” they read like a free hotel map. What, nothing rhymed with Inwood? The song makes fantastic use of a Dead Boys sample (who were from Cleveland), but fumbles the execution with their Up With People chants.
Lyrically, the Beastie Boys fail to make a convincing justification for their hometown pride beyond slogans that could fit on a t-shirt. The answering machine message of Paul’s Boutiqueconveyed more giddy pride in the nuances and uniqueness of the metropolis. In a trademark (or typical, or tired, depending on your perspective) deep pop culture reference, Adrock mentions Gnip Gnop, a 1970s Parker Brothers game that was like a cross of Pong and Hungry Hungry Hippos. “Jmoke Jhop” would have rhymed perfectly. In their attempt to point out the details of their city, the Beastie Boys offer little more than the view from the top of a sawn-off double-decker tour bus.
At this point in time, no measure of analysis regarding cadence, meter or goofy references will sway the pros and cons of the Beastie Boys’ lyrics. They do what they do, and even my mother knows their M.O. What To the 5 Boroughsoffers, contrary to naysayers who mock aging bands, are three voices showing intriguing texture from wear and experience. MCA sounds like the Harry Nilsson of hip-hop after a lost weekend. Adrock, especially, shows greater range in style. From his leisured easy-speaking on “Crawlspace” to the Eminem-like syllable play on “Hey Fuck You”, he puffs his chest with laid-back economy and moves away from the stereotypical nasal whine of their younger days.
Where the true influence of New York exerts itself on To the 5 Boroughsis in the stark rhythms, which filter the cold continental-sampling breaks of rap pioneers like Jimmy Spicer and The Treacherous Three through Apple processors. The streamlined foundations both pay tribute to the crews that influenced the Beastie Boys to put down their Bad Brains and Reagan Youth aspirations and lays a hard digital direction for the Bush Youth to follow.
Unlike all previous Beastie Boys albums (with the possible exception of Licensed to Ill), To The 5 Boroughssounds homogenous and singular in purpose– dark, steel, and dirty like that incomplete Times Square station. Ill Communication and Hello Nasty reveled in genre-dipping, from hardcore and salsa to dub and disco. Their decision to settle into a focused hip-hop direction here seems like a sage move. The album succeeds in its seeming spontaneity. “Seeming” in that they possibly spent years making it. But whatever length of gestation, the album’s easy air speaks to veteran, nothing-to-lose attitude of both the city and the group.
* * *
June, 1992; June, 2004
Still, my interaction with music goes well beyond simple, academic analysis of sound. Nostalgia, emotional context, the continued story and history behind the artist, the packaging, and everything else matters in my love and fascination with music. This is why writing for Pitchfork, which prides itself on discovering unknown underground artists, means so little to me anymore. Listening to music as some form of continued, insular experiment with recording driven by faceless, MP3-based rock bands bores me. I was immediately prepared to love To the 5 Boroughs from my history with the band– from listening to Ill while playing Atari with Andy Eberhardt, to mowing neighborhood lawns with Gregg Bernstein and Paul’s Boutique in a walkman, to holding my portable CD player off the front cushion of my Buick Century to keep Check Your Head from skipping as I passed over the speed bumps in the Marist parking lot every day after my Junior year, to shooting bottle rockets from poster tubes at passing trucks on 400 off the roof of the AMC multiplex I worked at when Ill Communication came out. It is not mentally possibly for me to switch on apathy towards the group.
When all is said and done, I have spun To the 5 Boroughs at least 30 times while working on some of the most rewarding and enjoyable creative work of my life in the past couple weeks, while visiting a city I love, and seeing people I missed. The album has become intrinsically linked to these experiences– from my movie premiere this week to the surreal tour of the Manhattan Mormon Temple last week. The little number at the top of this piece reflects little of personal relation to the record. It’s an arbitrary guide to how I would expect people to gauge the intent of this review. I will listen to this album for years to come. You might. Or not. It depends on your own complex web of past interaction with the Beastie Boys, linked memories to the music, or preconceived notion of how hip or not it is to listen to them in 2004.
Though I would fail to quantify the comparative “quality” of such albums, as I said before, I love Carl & The Passions as much as Pet Sounds. Divorcing the lives and backstory from the recorded product of a musical artist equates to making movies without characters. The sixth Beastie Boys album holds much more intrigue than some young dudes with bedhead thinking they’re going to evolve rock and roll. I’ve ended up listening to it more than any other release this year.
This process has become unexciting and routine, which is why I bid the world of music writing farewell. Explaining why I love a record in the confines of its production, lyrics and instrumental “tightness” without detailing the first time I heard the band’s song drifting from bowling alley in Poland or whatever confounds me. More power to those who discover new music from this site. I’ve figured out where I stand at this point, as have the readers. Like the Beastie Boys, I could continue to crank out divisive pieces of writing here until I go gray. I have more interesting stories to tell.
-Brent DiCrescenzo, June 15th, 2004
Pitchfork no longer hosts this review or the retraction. They only host a shortened excerpt – and that’s still too long.
No wonder he couldn’t get an interview with Radiohead, Thom Yorke would never be able to get in a word with this jackass. That would be DiCrescenzo’s last review for the ‘Fork. My thanks to you for hanging it and apologies to readers for thrusting this back upon them. I just hope you’re not holed up in a shack in Montana somewhere working on a manuscript.