Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Reviews: HHC, Spin

Some reviews are starting to find their way to the net. HHC reveals a new final tracklist along with clarifying a few other details.

1 Campfire
2 Take It Back
3 Get Em Out Tha Way Pa
4 Rushing Elephants
5 Unpredictable
6 The Heart Gently Weeps
7 Wolves
8 Gun Will Go
9 Sunlight
10 Stick Me For My Riches
11 Starter
12 Windmill
13 Weak Spot
14 Life Changes
15 Tar Pits
16 16th Chamber ODB Special

Their review follows:

Meth opens the album, spitting steady over a heavy warped plodding beat that definitely cocks a nod towards the ’36 Chambers’ days. Ghost declares “We gon’ have a ball – might as well pick a testicle.” We hope he’s talking to the ladies.

Subtle flip of a classic break with the Wu lining up to rhyme over it – these days there’s a good argument that you don’t really need your older rap gods to do anything more than that. Rae sounds fresh, and Ghost spits hard.

Big beastly electric bass tones underpin this, and it’s a reinvigorated Meth who takes the spoils again while Ghost and Rae tag-team on the chorus.

Rae’s talking about “Excalibur swords, T-Rexes”, GZA’s explaining “energy that shifts in colours”, and RZA’s mush-mouthing about, er, the Lord Of The Rings. This is the Wu getting their nerd on.

Ramping up the tempo, this rattles along a fair treat with all sorts of percussion mixing with some punchy horn stabs. Deck destroys it with his verse (though “Wu-Tang – keep it fresh like Tupperware” might not be his most assured punchline) and RZA references Meth’s recent crowd surfing tendencies. A Wu-Tang toe-tapper and not a million miles away from U-God’s overlooked ‘Wildstyle Suppafreak’ or Masta Killa’s ‘Digi Warfare’.

AKA the one that’s meant to get indie rock kids to buy the album. Not as unhinged and exciting as Ghost’s original solo take, it admittedly sounds much better in the middle of the album than on its own, and Meth’s great on it, basically rapping as if he were his character Cheese from The Wire. It was blatantly meant to be titled ‘My Gun Gently Weeps’ though.

There’s some animal predatory nonsense going on in the chorus while the beat’s again got that mystical vibe to it. Not one of the essential album moments.

Some late night dark alley business, Rae opens rapping in that hush-hush style he’s been rocking on and off for a while now, then Meth builds on it talking about “Poverty Island”. Two-thirds of the way through RZA throws in some almost dubby echo effects, but this would be a billion times more brilliantly menacing if they ditched the singing on the chorus.

Basically a skewed Wu-Tang funeral march, with RZA holding down all duties on the mic. Not too far removed from ‘Jah World’ on ‘The W’, and a suitable mid-point for the set.

Unless it’s sampled from an old soul record, you really don’t want to hear a modern Wu-Tang Clan track open with a whole minute of singing, as happens here. The bounce style hi-hats seem out of place too. Possibly the ‘Ugh!’ moment of the album.

The Wu talk about girls, in their own inimitable way: “She acting all shy but she likes handcuffs”. Again, there’s a lot going on in the background with the beat, but the singing in the chorus could go. What happened to rowdy chanting?

RZA in soundtrack mode, this is an atmospheric slow-burner with a low key vibe to it. At the risk of getting repetitious, it’s a pleasant surprise how motivated Meth
sounds across the project, spitting self-referential boasts like “In living proof I’m the wittiest unpredictable/Most talented rap motherfucker you ever listened to.”

Classic breakbeat with the Clan in straight braggadocio mode: “You can never find Zig’ weakspot – stop looking,” throws down RZA. There’s a small ODB interview snippet at the end of it to boot, which segues into…

Seven minutes of ODB tribute, with short laments from the Clan split up with a simple chorus. Deck gets the most introspective (“And I share the blame ‘cos you was calling for help kid/Shoulda coulda woulda had the time – I was selfish,”) while RZA’s tribute is the most comprehensive, revisiting Dirt Dog highlights. Not a verse or word from Ghost though, which doesn’t look good…

Too much mentalist ranting at the end scuppers this. One to skip.

Bonus ODB from the vault business, suitably dusty sound quality and all, but it would have been nice if it followed straight on from ‘Life Changes’.

RZA’s definitely on something different with the production here, but it’s definitely in the lineage of the original ’36 Chambers’ style – the off-key and warped moments just sound sonically clearer these days. (It wouldn’t be too out there to suggest that during the recording the Abbott was listening to a lot of vintage Bjork and Timbaland while taking breaks out from the board to watch the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.)

Meth’s all over the album – and generally sounding really up for it – and on the basis of this you imagine locking him and RZA in a studio together would produce something very tasty.

Edit out the few too many tracks with sing-songy choruses, trim a little of the flab (‘Tar Pit’, ‘Wolves’), and you’ve got a set to please the Clan’s faithful fan base if not something to endear them to a whole new generation. Which was probably their intention at the start of the project anyway. Job done.

Spin follows with their own take, though their tracklist cuts off after track 14, Life Changes. The question arises, will the UK version have the two final tracks, & if so, why?

Spin's take:

Much controversy has circulated on Wu-Tang's forthcoming album 8 Diagrams, the group's first set since 2001's Iron Flag; from losing their indefatigable spirit ODB, a.k.a. Ol' Dirty Bastard, in 2004 to the recent licensing deal for the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" to rescheduling the record's original release date to accommodate Ghostface Killah's forthcoming LP, 8 Diagrams has been somewhat of a feat. De facto frontman RZA has also earned the wrath of both Raekwon and Ghostface for his alleged micromanaging and recent guitar-playing trysts.
Produced by RZA, the 14-track 8 Diagrams -- out Dec. 11 via SRC/Universal -- harbors the usual martial arts-inspired themes like on "Weak Spot" and "Rushing Elephants." Still procuring mostly antique beats and drab sounds, Diagrams is as much a revival as it is a throwback. Check out our notes from last Friday's listening session. RODNEY DUGUE

1. "Campfire" -- Sampling Curtis Mayfield's "Gypsy Woman," 8 Diagrams begins with an old kung-fu master preaching about kindness and justice, evidence of their long standing fixation with martial arts. Method Man's voice emerges rapping: "cruising on the interstate follow me while I innovate." He later adds: "I don't eat berries" except Halle [Berry]. Impossibly accurate it would seem.

2. "Take It Back" -- "Before you had a name / You were screaming Wu-Tang" is a great indication of what Wu-Tang means to Wu-Tang as a united group despite the recent divisiveness. Co-produced by Easy Mo Bee, the dusty sparse chills are pure nostalgia. The title doesn't disappoint, appropriately taking it back to antiquity.

3. "Get Them Out Ya Way Pa" -- Ghostface provides the chorus, "If he drunk and he runs his mouth then we stomping him out" and then the refrain ("Get them out Ya Pa"). The tough guy ethos feels a bit out of place, but fits well with the grungy brassy beat.

4. "Rushing Elephants" -- GZA talks about his "big booty cousin nasty Nadine" -- and then double-teaming her. Incest notwithstanding, it's a great track.

5. "Unpredictable" ft. Dexter Wiggle -- Inspectah Deck and Raekwon split the lyrical duties manhandling this spooky off-key instrumental. Lines like "we keep it fresh like tuberware" only rival "bitches ride like the scream machine." Complete chaos reigns on one of the best tracks on album.

6. "The Heart Gently Weeps" ft. Erykah Badu, Dhani Harrison, and John Frusciante -- Falsely billed as the first successful Beatles-sampling record of modern day, Ghostface makes most of the hype. Ghostface talks about taking his "bitch to Pathmark" then lamenting about getting his shoes dirty before realizing he's out of bullets. The sort of inscrutable oddball genius Ghost is famous for.

7. "Wolves" ft. George Clinton -- George Clinton paints some weird yet effective imagery of running in the forest a la Little Red Riding Hood. With a distinct western whistle in the background, U- God cements the song with his running verse and pertinent drink choice -- "the apple martini of course is stirred." Our early favorite.

8. "Gun Will Go" ft. Sunny Valentine -- Over these really articulate strings, Atlanta-based rapper Sunny Valentine sings an irresistibly charming hook about gun violence, remarkably. Raekwon spits an immeasurably deft verse, cautioning: "Y'all n**** be making shapes / Ours is art / Yours is trace."

9. "Sunlight" -- Executive producer RZA makes one of two rapping cameos, performing a paean to Allah on a stormy, indiscreet track. "Allah is the most gracious / He made the earth so spacious," he raps stoically.

10. "Stick Me for my Riches" ft. Gerald Alston -- The appropriate backlash for the rags-to-riches stories that dominates hip-hop these days. The hollow chute pistons ingratiate the track really well in spite of the tried theme.

11. "Starter" ft. Sunny Valentine and Tash Mahogany -- A nasty sports/porn allegory persists where the female in question is the "number one draft pick." Don't forget about the "human highlight," either. A really wet misogynistic track, naturally.

12. "Windmill" -- There's no formal chorus on here, just a disorganized lyrical exercise built on a guitar trapeze. "Nobody can't fuck with me I'm too nice / Smack a kid / On his head every time I'm right" stands the test of memory.

13. "Weak Spot" -- Inspired by a kung-fu theme, this stuffy track, courtesy of the chafe bass line, is a chest-pounding, good time harkening back to some of the Wu's older material.

14. "Life Changes" -- The heartfelt and emotionally sharp ODB eulogy that everyone chimes in on, accordingly. Raekwon pays his final respects, "My son gonna remember you / Rubbing a statue on his lap / That resemble you." An appropriate tribute? Yes, definitely.

Though the Spin piece makes a few obvious errors ("Executive producer RZA makes one of two rapping cameos"--obviously there are more) interesting information can still be gleaned. For one, they get Wolves right, while HHC mentions it as a throwaway, which is basically retarded. Also, the track known as Thug World throughout the pre-album festivities has been renamed Unpredictable. The 2nd track from yesterday's Wake Up Show leak is Windmill. It is also interesting to note the similarity of some of these track titles to older Wu tracks, Windmill vs Windpipe, Sunlight vs Sunshower. RZA does indeed have a verse on Life Changes, though Ghost is lamentably absent. How great is it that there's a track named Rushing Elephants?
Meanwhile, MTV is still pushing the dissension angle: Meth refusing to really comment, followed by more self-centered stuff from Ghostface:
"Wu-Tang will survive." God, we hope so. Wu-Tang Clan fans everywhere have been shaking their heads lately — not so much in disbelief (they've had public squabbles before), but in disappointment at the Clan's recent round of airing dirty laundry. Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and RZA have all spoken their piece on the subject, but what about the most visible member of the triumphant hip-hop unit? Method Man is keeping his mouth shut for now.
"There's a reason why I ain't spoke yet," said Meth, standing next to the RZA recently in New York. "When the album drops, we can talk.""We're here though," RZA added. "We're spreading the culture."Ghostface Killah, who was the first Wu member to go public with the group's dissension, talked to us on Friday, just a couple of hours before he went onstage at the Hip Hop Live tour with Rakim. He let it be known that he doesn't stand firmly behind the new Clan album, 8 Diagrams.
"I love the Clan and all that, but we got certain problems right now," Ghost said. "Am I supporting the album? What's going on in the air right now and all that ... I'm supporting what I gotta do for right now for Ghostface. No disrespect to the album, I haven't really listened to the [project] like that, but I heard the responses and I kinda had an idea it was gonna turn out however it turned out. ... No telling how [the group situation] is gonna be tomorrow — a nice conversation or something to make your heart feel good. But as of right now, it's two weeks before my album The Big Doe Rehab comes out on December 4; I'mma do what I gotta do for Tony Starks. I can't worry about all this other stuff that's trying to take me out my game.
"Everybody is grown men on that side," he added about Wu-Tang. "There's no way in the world we shouldn't make the best album. You got me on your team, you got Rae, you got Meth, you got a dream team. The people been waiting for us for years, and to try and bake something that's not all the way baked and ready and rushing, I don't agree to that. So I'm not signing off on that. Don't put my name on that. I don't want people looking at me like, 'Ghost, what did you do?' I didn't do nothing. Nobody wanted to listen. Yeah, I came in [during] the ninth inning because I been played with the past couple of years, so I wasn't really going in on the Wu album. I was like, 'Forget that, I'm not doing that. N---as owe me money.' What I look like?"

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