Wu-Tang Clan | A Better Tomorrow (Warner Bros.)

wutang-better 75The Wu returns with a solid effort that often fails to get out of gear.

The Wu-Tang Clan is never completely out of the public eye, as every year the collective releases compilations, collaborations, or solo albums. However, it’s been seven years since their last group release, 8 Diagrams, and 13 since their last good album, Iron Flag. Through interviews pushing their latest release, the group claimed to be on the same page for the first time since the beginning of the century, which is very exciting. As the singles began to be released, the hype for A Better Tomorrow grew and grew.

It was easy to see why fans were so hyped after the release of “Ruckus in B Minor,” one of the early singles and the album’s awesome opener. Unfortunately, it’s the high point of the whole album. It’s the only track to feature every member, and it also includes the best beat. It’s very disappointing that the opener is by far the best track, but it highlights what the other songs are missing the most: the interplay between the members of the Clan. Lyrically, every member is solid on each of their verses, but despite claims of togetherness, it seems very disjointed and stilted in places. Older tracks like “Enter the Wu-Tang” and “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx” always give a great sense of how the group is together; A Better Tomorrow is missing that completely.

The lack of skits also affects the pacing. Overall, most of the 15 tracks are very solid, but every time Wu-Tang begins to hit a stride, they stumble and lose all of their momentum. The best example is the run of “Mistaken Identity,” “Hold the Heater,” “Crushed Egos,” and “Keep Watch,” which happens early enough in the album to give some hope. However, this sequence is rudely interrupted by “Miracle,” a musical-influenced song that’s one of the worst Wu-Tang has released, followed by “Preacher’s Daughter,” a bizarre concept track. If they had continued to build on those tracks instead of diverging, A Better Tomorrow could have stood up to their past catalog, but as it is, the album is split in two halves. The worst offender might be the disappointing closer, “Wu-Tang Reunion,” which comes just as they’re beginning to hit their stride again; it’s easy to be excited for this track from the title alone. However, the cut turns out to be way too upbeat and only features full verses from three members of the Clan, leaving the reunion a bit depressing.

It’s unfortunate, but A Better Tomorrow is definitely lesser than the sum of its individual parts. After some reflection, it becomes clear that, although the production is good and the lyrics are good, the choruses are where this doesn’t live up to past efforts. The hooks are not catchy for the most part, and downright bad on tracks such as “Miracle.” The Clan misses the simplicity and brilliance of “If you want beef then bring the ruckus/ Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nuthin’ to fuck with.” When they do head back to the classic style on “Crushed Egos,” featuring the R&B samples over piano loops and kung-fu introductions, they’re back to their best. While this album is a solid return to form by the Wu, it’s a step below the greatness they showed for much of the late ’90s. It’s not fair to expect them not to grow, but the growth should be a progression, like Ghostface between Iron Man and Fishscale. Instead, they left the grittiness at home, which leaves A Better Tomorrow a disappointment. B | Brett Berliner

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