Everybody knows by now that The Wu-Tang Clan dropped an undisputed classic album titled Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers back in 1993, then some of the individual members made classic albums of their own (GZA, O.D.B., Raekwon etc.) and so did some Wu-Tang affiliated groups (Gravediggaz, Killarmy etc). But, whilst mentioning all the successes of the Wu, it also has to be recognised that the clan as a collective have never managed to recapture the magic of their debut release. From their sophomore double LP onward, the Wu when together have never made an album that has come close to being a “classic”, there might be flashes of brilliance here and there but unfortunately nothing they’ve made since has been on the level of The 36 Chambers.
Okay, so it might be unfair to compare everything the group makes to their debut but at the same time how can you not compare everything to it? It was their crowning achievement after all and it has been the benchmark to which we measured all the group’s solo LPs.
So that brings me to The Wu-Tang Clan’s latest album The Saga Continues which is released today. Almost 24 years after I first heard the Wu, I was keeping my fingers crossed, hoping that they’d finally knuckle down and create something that matches or at least comes close to matching the 36 Chambers. Unfortunately The Saga Continues like a lot of their other post-millennial efforts doesn’t come close.
That’s not to say that this album isn’t enjoyable, there’s songs to like here and there but at the same time there’s so many problems that you can’t help but notice and mention them. Firstly and most importantly, we’re almost a decade and a half away from their debut as I’ve already said, so wouldn’t it be satisfying if the Wu made a spiritual sequel to the 36 Chambers at some point? At this stage in their careers it’s impossible not to look back at the “good ol’ days”, I mean even that “Can It Be All So Simple” reference now has it’s own sense of nostalgia. With many fans remembering all of the things that made the Wu the Wu, wouldn’t it be nice at some point to hear some kind of modernised early 90s sound, you know, dusty and hardcore with a 2017 twist? Instead, the group with this LP have gone with a late 90s, early 00s sound, something that we don’t want to hear again because those weren’t the Wu’s best years.
Now I have read in an interview with RZA that…
“For years, Math has had the idea of putting together a body of music using modern and legendary equipment such as ASR10 with vocal performances by Wu-Tang Clan members and other prominent MCs… with The Saga Continues he’s created a masterpiece. We at 36 Chambers ALC are honoured to work with Mathematics and Wu-Tang Clan to put out a great piece of art”
Judging by that statement, this is supposed to be more of a showcase for producer Mathematics and it’s more of a compilation album, but since it bears the name of “The Wu-Tang Clan” I’m going to judge it as I would any other album by them, and in that case, no, this isn’t a “masterpiece” and it’s not a “great piece of art”.
Okay so the album at least opens with a kung-fu movie intro bringing that trademark Wu-Tang style but it fades out and goes to an unneeded RZA skit-type thing. And that’s the first major problem; the inclusion of all the “RZA” skits with the exact same beat and with the inclusion of fades that really gets annoying, it would have been much better to remove them altogether.
Then there’s the overall soundscape. With the lethargic, steady, Temazepam-infused sound throughout the entire album, when any kind of kung-fu movie sample crops up, it wakes you up out of your snooze.
The other problem is the repetitiveness, the songs almost blend together, the production sounds so alike that after one listen of the album you couldn’t name the song being played. At certain points in the album a song moves on to the next and if you’re not paying attention you won’t notice the track change.
In addition, there’s no concept, lyrically there’s nothing new either, and there’s nothing satisfyingly “old” in the sense of golden age nostalgia for 90s fans, it’s just a collection of average, slightly head-nodding yet slightly forgettable beats with mediocre verses laid over them. Yes it’s called The Saga Continues but judging by the overall sound, it seems as though “Saga” refers to those “holidays for people over 50”, that’s how sluggish and lifeless it sounds.
The lead single “People Say” featuring Redman is an example of the album as a whole, and like the accompanying video it’s slightly above average but it doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t convey anything, it doesn’t stick out so you go away with nothing memorable.
Don’t get me wrong, this album isn’t a total failure. So what’s good you may ask? Well, firstly it’s Method Man’s flow which has improved over the last few years. Remember his verse in A$AP Nast’s “Trillmatic”? Well, there’s more of that here, although sometimes the production doesn’t do justice to his lyrics. Redman too gives a few decent verses but he’s not part of the clan so it doesn’t really count.
“If What You Say Is True” featuring the often forgotten Wu-Tang affiliate Streetlife is the stand out track and is the most satisfying in my opinion. This is what the entire album could have been; a proper head-nodding, mean, underground sound, and slightly abstract, slightly hardcore rhymes, basically what the Wu represented for a good number of years.
“Why Why Why” by RZA is something that could also have been listenable and even refreshing, starting out it feels somewhat relevant but the chorus lets it down and anything beyond the first verse is again almost pointless and forgettable.
On a side note, considering the idiotic post-9/11 verse by Ghostface Killah from the Iron Flag LP, “Pearl Harbor” is a title that should have been avoided. Okay, so it’s always good to hear the late, great Sean Price but yet again this isn’t a memorable track and that “Shoot your old lady in her privacy… bunch of ho-ho-hoes” line is not only too early for Christmas, it also sounds corny.
And speaking of corny, there’s some crappy singing in the song “G’d Up” (who thought that embarrassing “big boy life!” line was a good idea?). There’s also the track “My Only One” which features another corny R’N’B chorus, I mean wasn’t it RZA who once called R’N’B “Rap N Bullshit”? Well that description pretty much sums up the hook.
I’ll also add that after hearing the LP there’s too many Redman features, I’d have preferred to hear more from the core Wu-Tang members and maybe RZA and Math could have found some old Ol’ Dirty Bastard verse and mixed it in somewhere.
To sum up, The Saga Continues is not exactly a bad album but it’s not exactly a good album either. This album is fine while you’re listening to it but there’s not much that warrants a revisiting. Length-wise there’s no problem, at just over 51 minutes, this album isn’t long at all. But like I’ve already said, it doesn’t vary enough to be enjoyable so it kinda ends up feeling long. There are a couple of decent songs here but overall the late nineties or early noughties production sounds stale. And did I mention the skits fading in and out for no fucking reason?
At this stage in their career, I’d have loved it if the Wu had managed to go back to the beginning and tried to reference and match the creation that made them famous. But alas, The Saga Continues is all too steady rather than raucous, there’s no “bringing the ruckus” here. I don’t know if that single-copy album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin which was sold to that moron Martin Shkreli was any better, but this isn’t exactly the LP I wanted to hear two years after that particular debacle. I’ll admit that The Saga Continues is much better than 2014’s A Better Tomorrow but that was so underwhelming that it’s not really a compliment.
One thing I will say in defence of this release is at the very least it makes you go and revisit all the classic material by the Wu from 1993 to 1995, back when the Wu-Tang Clan were unique and original.
The Saga Ends.