I'm two and a half listens into the new Wu-Tang album, and I have to say: Ghostface and Raekwon; for all your ego-ma-tizing, condemnation of the RZA's "dictatorship" of the Wu during this recording, and criticism of the final product - you're wrong. This record is a lot better than Ghostface's recent Big Doe Rehab, and better than any of us had any right to expect the new Wu release to be. In fact, in their outspoken reservations all Raekwon and Ghost have managed to do is shift the adulation squarely onto the RZA's shoulders. The RZA has delivered.
Sure, it's no Enter the Wu-Tang, but for me no hip-hop record has been able to rival that one since it's release - despite some worthy attempts like Ghostface's Supreme Clientele and Iron Man (both largely handled by the RZA), RZA's own Bobby Digital, and the Gravediggaz' Niggamortis (featuring the RZA). I think we really need to put Enter the Wu-Tang aside and judge hip-hop records on their own merits.
I'm not sure where 8 Diagrams stands in the Wu pecking order just yet, but I'm thinking definitely ahead of The W, and maybe ahead of Forever. Only time will tell on that score, since Forever has certainly proved to be a record that has proved it's worth over time. It had to be divorced from post Enter the Wu-Tang expectation before the quality it actually possessed could be seen.
All the members of the clan are on top form on this one - yes, Raekwon and Ghostface included. Method Man's flow is still smooth, but lacks a bit of the wit you might have come to associate with him. The real star has to be the RZA though. He has dug out some truly amazing loops and beats. "Rushing Elephants" particularly goes down as my favourite loop for at least 5 years. It's so good that I haven't even listened to the words on that one yet; I just want to hear that loop again and again.
Another highlight is "The Heart Gently Weeps", which I didn't actually like when I heard it before the release of the album. Ghost's contribution is outstanding however, the live drum kit is a nice touch, and the production is beautifully clear.
Then you have the dark and humorous "Wolves" which features a brilliant guest spot from George Clinton, singing a wonderfully off kilter lyric about the wolf "that made a widower out of grandpa".
There are parts in many of the songs that I'm not keen on, like the chorus in "Get Them Out Ya Way Pa" or "Gun Will Go", but on the whole even these tracks contain enough outstanding elements to push doubts into the background. I read an earlier review that disparaged George Clinton's appearance on the bonus track "Tar Pit". For one thing, it's not really part of the album, so I think criticism should be held back. For another, I find it amusing that this is seen as so offensive on a Wu-Tang record. If it had been a Beastie Boys record people would be praising it to the skies, saying what an audacious move it was.
In all it's a brilliantly varied, even revolutionary hip-hop album - the best I've heard in a long time, and I think one that will garner more attention as time passes. My only real reservation is that it starts a little slowly - it's three or four tracks before it really gets bangin', and at over 70 minutes it's a bit too long - yet another hip-hop example of too many tracks spoiling the album (if only a little). Personally I would have left off the first three tracks, but that's just me. I'm sure some peope will be digging those too.