Music Review: Wu-Tang Clan, “8 Diagrams” (Universal Motown) * * *
Six years in hip-hop history is like sitting out a century, and that’s what Wu-Tang Clan did after 2001’s militaristic “Iron Flag.” After that extended hiatus, which saw the resurgence of Ghostface Killah as first-rate MC, the rise of RZA as Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” music supervisor and the death of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, it’s understandable that (a) “8 Diagrams” has a markedly different sound and (b) no one in the group except producer RZA seems to like it. But taken on its terms, “Diagrams” succeeds as an ultra-mellow and thoroughly modern take on the Wu.
This is fully evident on “Take It Back,” in which RZA sculpts a jazzy underlay for the Wu’s new mission statement, delivered largely by Ghostface. “Rushing Elephants” drops references to J.R.R. Tolkien and Zorro while ominous orchestration marches in the background. After the full-bore blaxploitation epic “Unpredictable,” the Wu lays back on the superbly sleazy “The Heart Gently Weeps,” featuring the melody from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” sung by Erykah Badu and played by John Frusciante and Beatles scion Dhani Harrison.
The guest appearances do not stop there — George Clinton shows up for the haunting spaghetti western funk of “Wolves” — and perhaps it is understandable that inter-group attitudes toward “8 Diagrams” are so diffuse: RZA has rebuilt the Wu-Tang Clan’s sound as a low-and-slow quiet storm. But there are no justifications for a return to the classic sound of 1993′s “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).” They’ve been there and done that, and with “8 Diagrams,” the Wu sounds positively re-energized with this lush and carefully crafted effort.
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