Our own George Pacitto, of Second Song On The Album, has been given Wu Tang's new album a spin for us.
Finally, a Wu-Tang album we can actually listen to. After the colossal mess that was Once Upon A Time In Shaolin being sold to a certain Martin Shkreli exclusively (which did nothing positive for the Clan other than line pockets), it’s a welcome relief to see The Saga Continues, initially just a RZA and Mathematics mixtape, released in such a conventional style. Early releases felt promising, what remained to eb seen was if Wu-Tang could step back into the upper echelons of current rap culture with a consistently impressive body of work.
The album begins with a skeletal but effective beat on The Saga Continues Intro track, not really setting up the tone of the record but not sure it was meant to. Not a fan of RZA’s loose contributions, but it does lead into the catchiest hook on the entire album on Lesson Learn’d. Very simple but only adds to the addictive nature of the song.
Fast and Furious is then an unfortunate and immediate dip in quality from it’s predecessor in the tracklisting. It still has the verve and quiet qualities that that Lesson Learn’d has, but everything is turned down that little bit too much.
RZA’s verses feel both dripped in emotion and yet strangely out of place on this album in particular in Why Why Why. The power from the lyrics is straightforward to digest, as it should be with lines such as “If I put my fist through the face of a racist”, but this is not a largely political Wu-Tang album, and coupled with the fairly obnoxious hook the whole track feels rather off.
And yet, People Say has some of the most exciting levels of production, and also feels the most at home on classic Wu-Tang albums of any other song on The Saga Continues. The intended quiet energy works on this occasion with stretched and faintly experimental use of vocals on the beat itself, which harmonises with the respective verses perfectly on more than one occasion.
That intended tight-knit structure of the album continues with Frozen, with less leftfield moments allowing tracks like these a more neutral palette to succeed from. Raekwon and Ghostfaces chorus feels so naturally Wu-Tang though it can’t help to bring a smile.
Berto and the Fiend also features some Ghostface work that is all too rare on The Saga Continues, and is no better and more atypical of the artist themselves than the vocals he puts down on Pearl Harbor. It isn’t enough to steer the track away from the memory of the muffled and patchy horns on the instrumentals, especially when the verses themselves are fairly beige in this instance, but it’s good to see any member of Wu-Tang still capable of bringing their A game.
If What You Say Is True never gets started beyond the promising introduction, would have been better suited to the first half of the album rather than buried in the middle. An efficient but under-developed track also rears its head in Hood Go Bang! There was enough here in the smooth and punchy beat to flesh out into a full-sized track, but it ends up sounding like a throwaway for a mixtape, which The Saga Continues certainly is not.
More low-key and a more artist-led track in terms of production, If Time Is Money (Fly Navigation) comes with a silky-smooth number of verses from Method Man. It’s throwaway, but it still has that foundations of quality. G’d Up also feels like filler, but both the videogame style cinematic instrumentation, as well as intrinsic details and subtlety make amends for the rather lax verses, that steer too close to the R&B wind.
The album also steers into pretty crass R&B territory for its final full-length track, My Only One. It’s a rather sickly chorus that takes away from any of the other contributions, of which it’s hard to say anybody bats above their average. It’s a fine enough experiment to take, and I’m glad Wu-Tang didn’t take the option of curating an entire albums worth of this particular sound, but that can’t hide the staleness of My Only One in particular. It being the last full-length track on the album, with Message and the self-titled outro acting as fairly basic sounding interludes is a disappointment that would have been easy to fix, as well.
However, this is a more than solid effort from the long-serving rap supergroup. It lacks the definition and robustness of message that both their classic work and recent albums from artists such as Tribe Called Quest have managed. It may border on being overlong, but what you do get within 18 songs is glimpses of Wu-Tang that will please any long-term fan. Perhaps it is not as accessible as it could be, but given how wide of the mark some of the more experimental cuts are on The Saga Continues, perhaps that is no bad thing.
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