Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wu-Tang Clan - The W (2000)

3.5 ★/7.0 - 7.9

"I must tell you...the clan is a danger to the public...For many men...just to hear of the name fills them with hate and loathing"

"But why? They never hurt anyone!"

"I'm afraid they did...in the past..."

Indeed wise sensei, there once was a time when Wu-Tang striked terror in the souls of even the strongest soldiers. Circa 1999, however, the Wu namesake had lost quite a bit of it's credibility. Each individual member was being watered down and compromised; Method Man had completely sold his soul to Def Jam, long-awaited debuts by Inspectah Deck and U-God turned out to be bland affairs and equally anticipated follow ups to classics by GZA and Raekwon barely featured RZA beats at all, preferring other, less impressive, producers.

Perhaps it was the popularity and hype of Wu-Tang Forever that went to the group's head. If so, however, the quiet release of The W should have been a good sign to fans who might have been disillusioned with the band. Even the cover suggests a less bloated and egotistical focus than Forever, trading in the image of the immense group lined up across the map of a globe, plotting their takeover, for a simple Wu logo looming over a single, plain W. From the first four tracks, this expected "return to form" seems inevitable. Kung Fu samples and analogies feature prominently, the MCs sound recharged and the Rza's signature skeletal sound from 36 Chambers is updated and revamped in way that makes it hit just as hard as it used to. "Careful (Click Click)", in particular, is a murky masterpiece; a swirling collage of vintage sound effects and disturbing minimalism. You also won't hear any complaints here about the lack of ODB. Never mind whether you can stand his crack-addled insanity or not; if his sole contribution, "Conditioner", is any indication, the album benefited from his absence. Without his inconsistent humor, most of the album prefers suffocating atmosphere and cinematic grime, coming off as dark, edgy and fresh as the cover's pitch-black background.

Yet somewhere along the line, The W still becomes just as scattered as its predecessor. You can't help but cringe when Junior Reid's Jamaican-accented voice kicks in on "One Blood Under W". Remember when the band took pride in their "beef with commercial ass-niggas"? They hypocritically become their own worst enemies with a track like this and especially "Gravel Pit". What's most frustrating about the latter, is that the band seems to build it into some sort of earth-shattering centerpiece, giving it an intro where RZA himself hypes it up, and even having it speak for the entire album by releasing it as a single. But all that's delivered is a cartoonish, flinstone-beat, a string of tired shout-outs, and an apathetically sung, generic hook for the chorus.

"Are we safe from the clan, father?"

"Yes, young one...for now...the Clan may have the strongest techniques, but they still haven't sharpened their swords after so many years of usage...just beware!...the Wu-Tang still appears dangerous...they may return to full power soon..."

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