Album review: Wu Tang Clan – The Saga Continues

After the Martin Shkreli madness that surrounded their last one-off, single pressed album, the Wu Tang Clan return with The Saga Continues. Since releasing as solo artists of pairs, a project from the whole crew had become more of a rarity, will this one manage to come close to their seminal 36 Chambers?

A year after the strange release of Once Upon A Time in Shaolin, the Wu’s next offering was hardly a smash, proving that publicity stunts are not always the smartest move. From selling one album – literally a single record – for two million dollars at auction, to struggling to sell more than 50,000 copies, it has been an odd time for arguably the best known rap-group of all time. The group have chosen not to use their full title for this project, dropping ‘Clan’ from their name and instead being billed simply as Wu Tang. The reason behind this is simply the fact that it has been less of a collaborative effort, instead they have pieced together lost treasures and new music from their members and packaged the result together. Long serving Wu Tang producer Mathmetics has been a driving force behind this release, which could be categorised as more of a compilation than a traditional album format. You rarely get to hear more than one core member at a time, instead you hear a less familiar Wu Tang affiliate alongside the staple voices of Redman, Methodman, Ghostface, Raekwon and RZA.

Each of these legendary voices have lost their touch somewhat over the years, as most middle-aged rappers seem to. Unfortunately they also do not seem to know when to quit; look at superstars like Jay Z’s latest album, or even legendary mic-men such as A Tribe Called Quest for example. It must be painful to watch the fall of hip-hop, and to see their art form reduced to the current state of mumble-rappers, but when the old guard seem unable to match their former glory, you can’t help but wish they would retire early.

However, if anybody has potential to rise from the ashes it is these guys. Those who have seen Redman and Methodman perform on this year’s tour will know that the fire in their belly is far from out. Their stage presence and energy is still unbeatable, and as Meth proved recently live on radio, he remains one of the rap scene’s most impressive rappers. At 18 tracks long but coming in at under an hour in length, it already suggests that there may be one too many skits / interludes, or simply that they have opted for the short track length that are commonplace on hip-hop albums. The first skit appears with RZA chatting after an old school arrangement of horns and samples of film dialogue.

It is not only the production which is dated, much of the lyrical content has not moved with the times either. We may not expect them to modernise completely, but mildly homophobic themes and overtly masculine rhymes add to the archaic nature of the release as a whole. The album references classic Wu Tang ideas well, from the martial arts movie samples and bold brass cuts, but it all sounds flat when compared to the youthful genius of 36 Chambers. This project’s overall laziness doesn’t mean that it is not worth a listen though, as it is full of well produced beats, and even on a bad day Redman and Methodman in particular can still work their magic.

“Lesson learn’d” see’s Inspectah Deck team up with Redman atop soulful strings and snappy drums. It is full of cliches and a dodgy semi-sung chorus, and after telling listeners that he’s “divorced rap”, Red spends the outro bigging up the album’s producer. What follows is an instrumental that is far too similar, opening up with more dusty strings and vocals. “Fast and Furious” precedes the album’s first unnecessary skit, before making way for the laid back “If Time Is Money”. Methodman shines as usual here but over a lukewarm beat. “Frozen” on the other hand is a much better matchup, where Meth takes charge once again over a thuggish backing of piano and guitars. The hook is well put together in the traditional cut and paste style and is easily one of the album’s best.

Ghostface falls apart on “Pearl Harbour” whilst simultaneously stating that he is the best of all time. RZA follows suit on “Why Why Why”, attempting some contemporary references such at twitter and twerking, but he sounds like he could do with some practice. “Hood Go Bang” is a clever blend of 90’s and 2000’s techniques, and luckily the beat is ridden by Redman and Method Man so it does not go to waste. “My Only One” is almost the exact opposite, the hook sounds like it could have been sung by Chris Brown, Ghostface references Beyoncé and Dave Chappelle, but can’t help sounding over-the-hill; as does RZA.

By all means this is not their worst group effort, but the gap between their glory days and now appears to be widening with every release. If you listen less carefully, it may be perceived as a decent enough offering, but when you really pay attention to the rapping, it is clear that they have lost what they once had. Why not come and check it out in store today and decide for yourself?