Wednesday, 16 April 2003

Album Review: Iron Flag

With yet more below average Wu solo albums sandwiched in between The W and Iron Flag, feelings were mixed at to whether this would be the first bad album to carry the entire Wu Tang Clan.

Despite some below par performances from the Wu's big-hitters recently (stand up Rza, Method Man and Gza), when the Wu have a family get-together they continue to produce some of the finest hip hop around. Their previous LP, The W was an attempt by the Wu to retread the mystic hip hop that they perfected on their debut. I think it was a terrific album, the record buying public didn't and The W suffered at retail. Iron Flag is unmistakably a more commercial effort than their last release, but perhaps strangely, it doesn't suffer a jot.

By 2001, Ghostface Killah had unquestionably stepped up to become the Wu Tang empire's most valuable commodity. He is simply untouchable on every line of every track. On Rules Ghostface gets in his two cents on the 9/11 attacks, "Who the fuck knocked our buildings down? / who the man behind the World Trade massacres, step up now / where the four planes at huh is you insane bitch / fly that shit over my hood and get blown to bits." Later he sensibly suggests, "Mr. Bush sit down, I'm in charge of the war." In fact Rules is one of the highlights on the album, featuring a rejuvenated Method Man chanting the, "How the fuck did we get so cool?" chorus line.

Another highlight, Pinky Ring, really shouldn't be a decent record but somehow is. Taking the sample from Sesame Street it somehow manages to remain credible. Pinky Ring follows Gravel Pit's lead by being a Wu track aimed squarely at chart domination. It didn't set the UK singles chart alight, but it remains a club favourite two years after its release. Other stand out tracks include the (Ann Peebles-featuring) haunting Babies and the international bonus track The W.

Dashing is a little too bland for the rest of the album, and despite Gza's best attempts to rescue the song from mediocrity with an excellent final verse, it remains the dullest track on the album. Elsewhere, Chrome Wheels is a little too orthodox to be an outstanding track. Apart from that, the lyrics of In The Hood a little cliched.

Another (albeit one which is forced on the group) problem is the lack of ODB. His wild, unintelligible ramblings have always been a highpoint of Wu albums for me. However, on Soul Power Flava Flav steps into the void left by ODB's absence admirably ("Without me having my finger in the plug / I'm getting shocked anyway"). If nothing else it is always good to hear Flav's voice on record.

Ultimately Iron Flag is a very good album but slightly shy of the usual five-star excellence that Wu Tang Clan albums provide. What is most noticeably missing is a little of the mysticism that made the Wu so original. There are a lot more verses dedicated to girls and money than there have been on previous Wu Tang Clan LPs, which is a shame, and there is a lot less of the kung-fu nonsense that made the Wu so endearing when they exploded on the scene around a decade ago.

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