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Paul’s Boutique: A Steve Swift Overlooked Gem

Paul's Boutique

No Paul’s Boutique, no ‘Sabotage‘. In fact no Ill Communication. I’ll see your Check Your Head and raise you again with this fabulous, and rather overlooked.

It’s odd. It’s a mess. It’s a sales disaster. That’s a general feeling about Paul’s Boutique. The first two are gloriously correct. The last? Here’s what I think…

Licensed To Ill Leaves A Long Shadow

It was a phenomenon, that debut, snotty, rocky, and childish. I had the album and couldn’t quite work out why I liked it. I hated the mock rock of ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn‘, but enjoyed the Bonham beat of ‘Rhymin’ & Stealin‘ and simplicity of ‘Hold It Now, Hit It‘.

But I didn’t become part of the, you know, cult. In the UK, people were breaking the badges of Mercedes Benz cars to wear round their necks and helped to push the album to gold, platinum, and diamond.

And then we had a 3-year wait. And people didn’t wait patiently. The rumor mill was giving off sparks. There was worry. I even remember a Brit newspaper reporting that Ad-Rock had been seen walking the streets with a double bass on his back.

Jazz? Oh, God!

Oh yes…and Paul’s Boutique is full of groove; whilst its predecessor was sharp rock, Paul’s Boutique had Soul, Funk, and, yes Jazz curves.

It’s a transitional album and they did throw a lot in, which is why it sounds messy and baggy, but with so much cool stuff here, what would you throw out?

The Brilliance Of Paul’s Boutique

Opener proper Shake Your Rump could sound like a frat boy shout-out, after a calm, 70’s Soul bedroom narrative and calming electric piano preparation of To All The Girls, but it’s more than that. There’s that extraordinary fuzzy spread of the synth dump, which works with the syncopated beat and gets into all your pleasure centers, but there are signs that The Beasties will never be the same again; that funky bass line, that lounge percussion. This is one of the most iconic things they have ever recorded.

And then the 70’s street-sharp hustle of Hey Ladies, the dirty sass of a slowed riff in Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun, whilst Egg Man just has that simple beat and hip-shaking bass, isn’t it? No, it has so much more going on, but it sounds…pure.

And who could have produced a groovy track about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, from the book of Daniel in the very Bible, here shaking their doodads for you. Upfront is a Sly Stone sample, in the middle horns horns, all through, no worries fun.

The Samples

Paul’s Boutique is referred to as the Sample Album and there’s a reason for that. Many of these tracks have more than 7 samples, but that’s not the important thing.

It’s the samples they pick. It’s the groove they create. The majority are 70’s samples. They aren’t just the Funk and Soul sounds we’d expect though, there’s a Rock seam as well; when Donovan is elbow to elbow with Trouble Funk, you know you’ve got it good.

The Rap

Paul’s Boutique doesn’t have the smooth, airer flow of the next Check Your Head release, it resembles the supercharged push of the debut, voices gathering together almost for protection.

And yet here it works, because the whole thing is a delicious mess, the Bouillibaisse which closes the album.

Cooking It Up

It’s a load of odd ingredients, is Paul’s Boutique, all of which shouldn’t work together but absolutely do. From beatbox bravura in Get On The Mic to the celebration of A.W.O.L via the urgent beat and woozy guaze over the mic sound of A Year And A Day.

It has audacity and is Paul’s Boutique writ large, the samples are bits, the songs are

Looking back in 1990, Pitchfork saw the brilliance in the approach;

Paul’s Boutique is a landmark in the art of sampling, a reinvention of a group that looked like it was heading for a gimmicky, early dead-end’

At the time though, it was seen as an anomaly. And it didn’t even save the store it was named, that Paul’s Boutique closed. This one is open for business and should be getting new customers every day.

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