Wu-Tang Clan, A Better Tomorrow, album review: The boys are back, on top form

The album brings their career full circle; although RZA’s prog-hop backing track shows how far he, at least, has developed since then

Discounting – as the group themselves do – 2011’s makeweight Legendary Weapons offering, it’s been seven long years since 8 Diagrams, during which time the Wu-Tang Clan appear to have drifted further apart.

Certainly, A Better Tomorrow – surely the hip-hop collective’s final testament – has had a tortuous gestation over the past three years, with producer RZA struggling to get the group focused – key member Raekwon, in particular, only agreeing to participate late on in the process.

For all that, it’s a pretty decent album, with their trademark melange of rap stylings at their most spikily effective, each track switching between self-promotion, street-crime narrative, social commentary and cosmological speculation as different members take the mic. Ol’ Dirty Bastard even appears from beyond the grave, heralding opener “Ruckus in B Minor” with his engagingly berserk charm, before the others set out to “strive with an army of winners and no pretenders”, as Raekwon puts it. Harking back to “Bring Da Ruckus” – the opening track of their debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) – it brings their career full circle; although RZA’s prog-hop backing track shows how far he, at least, has developed since then. Elsewhere, marching-band brass and choir drive “40th Street Black/We Will Fight”, while the resentment of “Mistaken Identity” is bracingly evoked by the distorted guitar and noise-collage dropout section.

Dusty’s “Son of a Preacher Man” furnishes the slinky groove for “Preacher’s Daughter”, each rapper creating their own reminiscence about the imaginary girl. It’s in stark contrast to “Miracle”, where the idyllic opening male/female duet is rudely crushed by a dystopian mafiosi rap; but in general, the album becomes more philosophically relaxed as it proceeds, with a Martin Luther King speech and O’Jays sample underscoring the family values of “Never Let Go” and “Wu-Tang Reunion”, which closes the album – and their career – in the right spirit.

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