Ten years ago, when the Beastie Boys ruled the world, they let U2 appear on their Tibetan Freedom Concert album. It was poignant to hear U2 sound lost and confused, at their commercial and creative nadir, floundering through the vaguely anthemic “One.” Poor old U2 had no clue how to connect with a Beastie-worshipping young mod world. But now, with U2 bigger than ever and vague anthems all the rage, the Beasties can be forgiven for sounding confused themselves, as they try to bring their Grand Royal chutzpah up to date. The Mix-Up is all-instrumental, digging into the familiar organ-heavy lounge funk of Check Your Head and Ill Communication. Yet it’s poignant, because the Beasties play their old grooves like they realize how bad people miss them and how high their stock remains despite so many years away.
The Beasties could have knocked out all twelve jams in a lazy weekend in 1992, 2007 or anywhere in between, and the album isn’t meant too seriously; Mike D still drums like Meg White’s dad. But it’s definitely fun to play loud on a sunny afternoon, especially the conga groove of “The Melee,” the “See Emily Play”-style psychedelia of “14th St. Break,” the stoner fuzak drones of “The Kangaroo Rat” and “Off the Grid.” I was surprised to find the rest of the songs were not simply titled “Weedbreak, I-VIII.” And despite the Beasties’ New York roots, there’s no punk or post-punk; if they’ve heard LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, CSS or any of the young funkateers they keep inspiring all over the world, you can’t tell from The Mix-Up. Hopefully, this is only a warm-up for their next big move.