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Wu-Tang Clan
The Saga Continues The Quietus , December 21st, 2017 16:40

A lacklustre record that's Wu-Tang by numbers, but thankfully not as incohesive as their last outing. By Alice Kemp-Habib

Wu-Tang Clan’s newest album won’t be going down in history, though thankfully it bypasses the sprawling variety of their previous record. A Better Tomorrow lurched from crashing horn ensembles to Broadway vocal features, held together by the most protean collection of rappers in hip hop. The Saga Continues harks back to the group’s original output in some ways - a more cohesive tapestry of sound stitched together with leisurely drumbeats and looping soul samples.

But cohesive doesn’t mean fresh or interesting. “When I get albums, I wanna hear albums I can rock to from beginning to end, all the way through. So, that’s what I was trying to do,” said Mathematics, long-time Wu collaborator and designer of the W logo, on producing the new album (with RZA as executive producer). Creating a more uniform sound across the album and failing to think in terms of songs or singles has resulted in a lack of distinction between songs. The production quality can’t be faulted, but the album lilts from track to track with no high points, nothing that really stands out.

The blueprint for a typical Wu-Tang album is here: kung fu terminology, chopped and screwed film dialogue, race relations and spirituality. Back and forth skits about gender dynamics in the “black community” feature prominently. After one such skit comes ‘Why Why Why’ which, for better or worse, probably has the most commercial appeal of all the tracks. The recurring hook makes reference to Kirk Franklin’s ‘Imagine Me’, a preppy gospel number about overcoming one’s troubled past. Swnkah lends her saccharine vocals for the song, which confronts racial tension in America, but it doesn’t have the impact you’d hope for.

Equally, while esoteric subject matter and vocal dexterity are to be expected from the Clan, even this falls short at points. Cappadonna is a relatively recent addition to the official lineup and, on ‘Make Time’, he uses trite similes to describe his lover: “She be in the kitchen like Patti Labelle with a bunch of jokes all day like Dave Chappelle… in the bedroom she be doin’ it and doin’ it well”, he raps quoting LL Cool J’s mid-90s jam. Likewise on ‘G’d up’, heavily autotuned vocals extol the virtues of drink, women and the “big boy life”.

The Saga Continues is lacklustre. At times it ventures into sellout territory. It’s not a terrible album (maybe I’ll add a few tracks to my ‘Chill’ playlist) but it never breaks new ground and it never touches the magic of 36 Chambers. Instead, it settles in a slightly anaemic midpoint between nostalgia and commercial compromise.