8 Diagrams sounds more suited to the back seat of cinema than the front seat of an...
Eamonn Stack 2007
Formed in 1993 the Wu-Tang Clan were rap pioneers, with their inspired combination of Taoist philosophy, marshal arts battle-sequences lifted from badly dubbed chinese kung-fu films, smoked-out philosophical mumbo-jumbo and a myriad of pseudonyms. Strange, understated, hypnotically addictive beats and basslines, added to vocal talents helped render Staten Island gangland attitude into a fictional modern-day Shaolin. They smashed the game on arrival.
However, other than their classic debut, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) their material has been extremely patchy. Bar the odd hit single, a couple of their solo albums have certainly been better bets. But here on their fifth album the legendary RZA's back in production, and they seem to be keen to make a fuller and more consistent statement. Lyrically, they're still refreshingly way out there, fashioning material that's more cerebral and philosophical than anything else in the hip hop mainstream.
"Campfire" opens with a trademark whining Chinese strings lifted straight from an old Shaolin Kung Fu flick, into some pocket Taoism: ‘Practice honesty - keep your temper, a good friend holds his drink, bad company makes bad wine’ - perhaps reflecting the fact that the whole crew is bit older now and the mood more subdued.
"Take It Back" is instant vintage Wu-Tang, atmospheric, understated film soundtrack funk, punctuated with head-nodding scratches, with probably the fastest flow on the album: The Wu can still spit.
Elsewhere “Unpredictable”, “Sunlight’’ and “Windmill” are the Wu at their banging and occasionally baffling, best. But despite the overall improvements, this is still a fairly inconsistent effort. There are flashes of the old brilliance here, but, true to most rap albums of the last twenty years, it's too long.
Also, clearly they've been listening to the people who've made it big partly by being inspired by their work 15-odd years ago with some nods to the recent work of Danger Mouse and Sa-Ra Creative Partners. This is a shame, as the Clan were always leaders; not only in their sound, but also in their ability to turn a band brand into an ever-expanding franchise. In the end, 8 Diagrams sounds more suited to the back seat of cinema than the front seat of an Escalade.