A few years ago, Elvis Costello performed a ragged, seat-of-the-pants rendition of his song "Radio, Radio" on one of Saturday Night Live's interminable anniversary shows. The Beastie Boys played backup to Elvis, and it was Adam Horovitz's trainwreck-waiting-to-happen keyboard work that powered the song to glorious heights Elvis hadn't attempted in years. Horovitz played as if he had learned the song that afternoon, and if he couldn't get the right notes in the right place, he was going to get by on bullshit, bravado and enthusiasm. Simply Mortified, Horovitz's second collaboration with Beasties touring drummer Amery Smith, is proof that although his keyboard technique may have improved slightly in the intervening years, that "Screw it, let's just play!" attitude is still driving the music.
Simply Mortified careers through 20 songs like sugar-shocked kids on the Tilt-a-Whirl, all flashing lights, blaring happy music and laughs, laughs, laughs. Horovitz and Smith play roller-rink-style organ runs and one-finger cocktail-hour keyboard riffs over sticky breakbeats and pure power-pop drum lines to create a musical cavalcade of whimsy. "Wait a Minute" is a love song about supermodel Fabio's run-in with a roller coaster and a goose; "Do the Scrappy" is an indictment of hipsters too cool to dance; "Buddy" is a paean to friendship that rivals the finest work of Jonathan Richman and Dr. Seuss in its goofy charm and honest belief in the good nature of other people. "Loosen up a little/you fuddy-duddy/and let's get silly/just like the putty" isn't just a clever paired couplet; it's good advice for the cold, gray winter months.
Despite the overall happy tone, Adam Horovitz is a Beastie Boy, and the social conscience the group has developed since License to Ill undercuts the humor with a few pointed appearances. "I know he's sexist, but he's so funny/And he's homophobic, but he's got great lyrics/What do I do, pretend not to hear it?" Horovitz asks in "The Dilemma," and you know he's talking about that cracker Marshall Mathers -- and then you remember that the guy doing the asking used to rap, "I did her like this/I did her like that/I did her with a Wiffle Ball bat" and employed a full-time "trim coordinator" while on tour. Ecchhhh. How do you reconcile that? "It doesn't have to be like this," Horovitz sings. "Let's just forget what we've been taught." He's right. Horovitz and the other Beasties turned themselves around lyrically, and Eminem could, too. Just get silly like the putty, indeed.