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Wu-Tang Clan : Wu-Tang Clan Iron Flag

They're hungry again and trying to get back on track by taking it back to basics...

Wu-Tang Clan : Wu-Tang Clan Iron Flag

7 / 10 Are those with good ideas doomed to repeat them? Wu Tang Clan made so many
fine records individually and as a group so swiftly during the '90s, that
whatever they do now feels like a retread. Their prolific innovation may
have terminally diluted their continued relevance. What a rotten irony.
Their magisterial debut album, 'Enter The 36 Chambers', reinvented hip hop
when its dense magic descended in '93. Rap was short on dynasties then, but
they produced one, speedily, by delivering two of rap's most recognisable
stars in Ol' Dirty Bastard and Method Man, and cementing the legend with
early solo outings by Genius, Ghostface and Raekwon.

All good stuff, but now old stuff. A Wu Tang Clan investment has proven to be one of
diminishing returns recently. Last year's third album, 'The Wu', was an
expensive, drawn-out production that sold poorly. Which is why within just a
year album number four has arrived anxious to please: if it were a dog it
would be able to bark your name. But it1s not a dog (literally or
figuratively) and so what takes place is unusual. It1s the Wu Tang Clan block
party album.

And if that sounds a little desperately rudimentary for a group who for so
long shrouded themselves in dark, lyrical martial arts, it is. Desperate,
but largely effective. Nowhere on the album is the need for good-time
pragmatism more evident than on 'Soul Power', where Public Enemy's Flavor
Flav (I'm the nigga who sang 'Fight The Power'', he tragically reminds us)
takes the role of the incarcerated ODB with aplomb, leading the troops
through the Wu Tang Clan version of PE, minus the electrifying rhetoric of Chuck D.
Instead, Flav and Meth rap for ages about coming from the same
neighbourhood.

Elsewhere, Meth and Ghostface at the heart of most of the best passages -
Ghost telling Dubya Bush to sit down 'cos he's running the war on the
excellent 'Rules' is particularly cool. But the album's eagerness to hit the
right switches leaves some tracks cluttered (see 'Chrome Wheels'' '80s-style
divas) and too many of the rhymes are without substance. Often they're just
half-remembered battle cries and boorish Wu Tang Clan flag-waving.

It's said that once you1ve got it you never lose it, but another cliche
insists that once you lose it, you can never get it back. The Wu Tang Clan have still
got it, but their aim is shot. In that and other respects they're the
Oasisof hip-hop. Eight years ago they totally reinvigorated their genre,
but with success they grew bloated and complacent. Now they're hungry again
and trying to get back on track by taking it back to basics. But can they
out-pace time's tide? This is a solid . That may not be enough.

Ted Kessler

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