Friday, 21 February 2003

Album Review: Wu-Tang Forever

The perceived downfall of the Wu Tang Clan can be traced back to this release.

Before Forever the Wu could do no wrong in the eyes of the critics. Their debut release, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was held to be one of the greatest hip hop albums ever made. The five solo albums that were released after 36 Chambers were each held in equally high regard. Then, however, things went slightly off course for the Wu. Forever was delayed for so long, many fans began to wonder if it would ever appear. Then when it arrived many fans were sceptical of this hip hop double LP that weighs in at over two hours long.

As early as the first track proper prove the doubters wrong, Reunited has the Gza fire an opening salvo on those artists who had been copying the Wu's style while they had been gone, "Reunited, double-LP, the world excited / struck a match to the underground / industry ignited / from metaphorical parables to fertilise the Earth / wicked niggers come try to burglarise my turf / scatting off soft ass beats them niggers rap happily / tragically, that style, deteriorates, rapidly." It's great opener, and one that reassures the listener that whatever they've read about this LP, the Wu-Tang mean business.

Released in 1997, this was the time when Rza was prepared to take a few risks with his production. On Cash Still Rules / Scary Hours, Ghostface Killah is tearing through a typically uncompromising verse when the music simply runs out leaving Ghost to finish his verse acapella. Equally, For Heaven's Sake with its odd high-pitched warble effect is one of Rza's more innovative tracks.

The first disc concludes with It's Yourz, an attempt by the Wu to match some of their earlier anthems. It has Rza, in typically self-appreciating style, shout, "It's yours / the seed and the black woman / it's yours / double LP from Wu Tang Clan." If the first disc had been released alone, the listener could not have too many complaints. Strange then that the second disc contains just as many, if not more, classic Wu-Tang tracks.

The second disc kicks off with the single Triumph. It's a dark affair, with the Wu positioning themselves as soldiers on a battleground ("War of the masses / the outcome disastrous / many of the victims families save their ashes / a million names on walls and graves and plaques / those who went back receive penalty for their acts."). Elsewhere on disc two, Impossible has the Wu in preachy mood, Raekwon tells us, "The murder rate is increasing and we're decreasing / so at the same time that you play with guns... / that causes conflict against your own."

For the most part this is a group effort, but at certain points during disc two, the rappers break off into pairs to differing effect. The MGM has Raekwon and Ghostface Killah trading the microphone line by line over a typically stark backing track. Dog Shit is ODB and Method Man's chance to shine in the absence of the rest of the group. Frankly, the result is a juvenile, misogynistic track that somehow manages to be semi-entertaining. However, for those still in any doubt about the political correctness of the Wu the following track, Duck Seazon is an entirely immature tirade about homosexuality.

Typically the album is highly cinematic. From the sleeve design to the b-movie snippets to the hilarious virtual tour of the Wu Mansion (a CD-ROM extra found on disc one), the album has a Hollywood feel to it.

I've always been of the opinion that the press were unduly savage on Forever. It's not quite the equal of 36 Chambers but it really isn't far away. Criticisms of it being overlong are not unfounded and perhaps one or two of the tracks would have been better left on the production room floor, but album with twenty-nine tracks will have one or two weak ones. Forever should be an essential purchase for any hip hop fan.

No comments: