Get Off My Lawn, Motherf**ker
Anyone from a large family has experienced times when most of the family gets together for a holiday or graduation. It’s a good time had by all, but what’s most interesting is when the various generations break off into groups and you get to witness a time warp of sorts. Most entertaining of which is that group that spent their most formative years in the ’90s; Just young enough to still be “with it,” but showing some signs of their age. That’s what Wu-Tang Clan’s A Better Tomorrow sounds like. A bunch of guys who spent their best years together, but don’t see each other very often.
Wu-Tang hasn’t put out an official group project in seven years. The last being 8 Diagrams, which came soon after the death of original member, ODB. At that time, they were a group looking for a new identity. They weren’t running away from what they were, but RZA was trying to add to their already expansive sound. It was more daring, more psychedelic, and, ultimately, more miss than hit. The voices were off. At its base, Wu-Tang is still nine different men (if you include Capadonna) coming together to make one, singular voice. RZA was always able to take those personalities and gel them in a way that made them shine under one banner. A Better Tomorrow, unfortunately, picks up where that last album left off. It’s definitely more concise, but there’s still something missing.
There are clear standouts on the album, most of them the singles. The organs on “Ruckus in B Minor” are haunting and fit the ’70s soul mold that RZA likes to work with. The same could be said for “Preacher’s Daughter” or “Ron O’Neal.” Somehow, reverting back to familiar territory works better for the ensemble than branching too far out. This could easily be accredited to RZA’s growth as a producer over the past two decades. No longer a young man who barely knows how to work the machines he’s creating with, he’s an accomplished beat maker and composer. He knows his sound, and squeezes it from each Wu member with ease at this point.
Where A Better Tomorrow falters is when the age of the nine MCs becomes apparent. The standouts are Method Man, Raekwon and RZA. Even though Ghostface shows flashes of the idiosyncratic MC we all know and love, he’s almost phoning it in, while the rest sound rusty and, at times, disinterested. The collective just couldn’t bring it together. The long gestating album has been in the news for years, with different Wu members stating that they had been working on portions as early as 2011. The patchwork is clear at points. For as cohesive as “Keep Watch” sounds, “Miracle” is the musical equivalent of a crosshatched blanket.
Wu-Tang Clan has been around for two decades. Their influence on hip hop, and music in general, is undeniable. They don’t have anything to prove to anyone at this point, but the music is largely uninspired, which is sad when you consider that this may be their last group effort. A Better Tomorrow never truly comes together. The hits on the album are classic Wu, and will easily stand next to other songs in their storied history. The rest of the album is largely forgettable and stagnant. Wu-Tang Clan may have had something to say, but this album trips over its words. We don’t know if they’re saying goodbye to us, or each other.
Originally published on – Inyourspeakers.com (12/16/2014)