Wu-Tang Forever

Wu-Tang Clan

Loud / RCA Records, 1997

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/28/1998

Open Letter to Ol' Dirty Bastard: Props to you and your boys at the Grammys Wednesday night. Your stunt landed you in the same, prestigious circle as Guns N' Roses and Milli Vanilli, who were past Grammy offenders. Sorry, but saying the Grammys don't represent quality is about as radical as saying the Spice Girls suck. Blonde On Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, all didn't get one award? Surprised? Shouldn't be.

Now...onto your album, Wu-Tang Forever. Gotta say, not bad, not bad at all. 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. both released strong double albums, but yours was possibly the first double album that utilized most of the space on two 60-minute plus discs. I'll get into the third person writing-critiquing analysis in a sec, but I just wanted to say Wu-Tang Forever was the CD that made me feel hippest last year. When no one was in my apartment complex, this was blaring as I cleaned. This was one of those CD's where you almost wanted your parents to discover you had, just to piss 'em off.

Ok, that all said, Wu-Tang Forever was probably the best rap CD released last year. Following up the now-classic Enter The Wu-Tang:36 Chambers was challenge enough. Following it up after nearly each member released solid solo albums posed an even greater challenge. But Wu-Tang Forever sounds gloriously unified. If Puff Daddy is gloss king on albums, the Wu represent the dirtier side of rap. They leave spaces, some of the bass is scratchy and a good deal of the album is original material.

Thankfully, not all of Wu-Tang Forever is about boasts about how good the Wu-Tang are or over-glorified tales of street violence. While they do talk about glocks, money and women who did them wrong(or bitches), they do make obscure references to Bjork and the Transformers.

In the optimistic, "A Better Tomorrow", the Wu deliver a genuinely moving chorus, "You can't party your life away/drink your life away/smoke your life away/fuck your life away/dream your life away/scheme your life away/cause your seeds grow up the same way". In that chorus, all of the other bullshit posturing the band does on the second CD seems to sound like a bad sci-fi novel.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The Wu can get away with most of the posturing on the second CD, although "The Projects" and "Dog Shit" were a bit unnecessary. Their infatuation with science fiction and 70s style Kung-Fu movies fits in perfectly with their street narrative tales. Just as they obsess over horror movies, their tales of street life just seem to morph into another story. Jason kills someone with a cattle prod in one lyric...somebody gets filled with AK slugs in the next lyric.

If they stayed in those borders, the Wu-Tang Clan would have no problem with discrepancies in their lyrics. Everything they write could just be storytelling. But the Muslim overtones and the gritty realisms of prison life make you look twice at some of the lyrics. How can a band cry, "There is only one faith" and attack brothers for calling their girl a "bitch" and do the same damn thing throughout most of their songs?

Though the lyrics may be one of the weakest part of Wu-Tang Forever, they at least get a reaction. Why is it that when a white band like Guns N' Roses or even The Clash sing about getting reckless and even capping a person, the impact on the listener isn't nearly as harsh as it is coming from someone like 2Pac or the Wu-Tang Clan? Maybe it's because we know some of these rappers live very close to their lyrics, and maybe it's something more than that.

I have to admit though, musically, Wu-Tang Forever holds up solidly. CappaDonna adds some soul to songs like "For Heavens Sake" and the compelling "Heatherz". "Visionz" and "Impossible" are tracks that can give even the most advanced stereo system a workout. The samples of old kung-fu movies are funny, but not as funny as seeing an anchor person at NBC say "Wu-Tan-Clang" or "Old Dirty Bastard" the day after the Grammy awards.

In all, Wu-Tang Forever is a complex package. Not only because recording guru RZA packed the first CD with an enhanced CD-ROM function and inserted an America Online ad, but because the album poses a challenge to the listener. Regrettably, there's about seven or eight songs on the two CDs that either sound too similar or are just throwaways. If you have two hours to kill, by all means, try to listen to the album in its entirety. Time goes by quick when you're trying to get down the quick rhymes the band throws at you.

The Notorious B.I.G. and the Wu-Tang Clan left albums that refused to be left on your turntable last year. Each artist had a way of luring you in with some irresistable hooks and some amusing word play. But just as soon as you cozy up to the speakers, a derogatory song jilted a reaction out of the listener. If women-hating, homophobia or acts of bluffs about violence irritate you even slightly, you're going to get a reaction. Fortunately, for the Wu, they're still here to answer questions about why each track was put on the album.

1997 also saw the Wu-Tang Clan tour with another controversial group, Rage Against the Machine. That tour self-destructed less than a month after it was launched. While Rage Against the Machine continues to rail against greed and socital ills, the Wu-Tang Clan are in a blissful middle zone. Their lyrics hint at greater aspirations, while still singing about getting drunk and partying. Hopefully, within a few albums, they will have decided which route they want to travel.

Rating: B+

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© 1998 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Loud / RCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.