Album Review: Wu-Tang Clan 'A Better Tomorrow'

As all the inter-group pre-release feuding suggests, A Better Tomorrow, Wu-Tang Clan's 20th anniversary album and first in seven years, is a mixed bag.??

All fragmentation aside, it's not nearly as bad as the initial round of reviews make it out to be.

It's also probably the best thing they've released - collectively - since Enter the 36 Chambers, although that might not be saying too much.

For one thing, A Better Tomorrow's 15 tracks are simply too much to digest at once and all of the group's MCs rap like shadows of their former selves, but the trademark chemistry and back-and-forth riffing seems to be on full display again, after being almost totally done away with on the group's preceding album, 8 Diagrams.

??A Better Tomorrow's foremost redeeming quality is its production, which sees RZA enlisting the likes of Adrian Younge to achieve that vaguely-cinematic feel that he's been reaching for ever since meeting up with Quentin Tarantino in the early 2000's.

Nearly every song has Spaghetti Western guitars, horns, etc.; a refreshing change of pace from the endless kung-fu sampling.

??Tracks like "Miracle" can maybe be legitimately criticized as overwrought and sugary (that hook!), but it's nice seeing Wu-Tang experimenting with the catharsis of the track's ending.

Single and opener, "Ruckus in B Minor" also features some relatively off-kilter production that seemingly switches with each verse. In fact, it's probably best viewed as a collection of beats within one song.

??"Hold the Heater" begins with awkward EDM synth stabs before thankfully morphing into what will ultimately be seen as A Better Tomorrow's old-school fan pleaser. For maybe the first time in his career, RZA has the best verse on a song, which maybe shouldn't be surprising because this does really seem like his album.

As much as it pains your reviewer to write this, GZA seems beyond saving (full disclosure: Liquid Swords is my favorite hip-hop album of all time) - content to only rhyme the last syllable of each line on every single song he's featured on.

??"Preacher's Daughter," a reworking of Dusty Springfield's classic "Son of a Preacher Man" fares considerably better than the similar treatment given to The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on 8 Diagrams, but its inclusion seems strange and unnecessary, especially because A Better Tomorrow is still a bit longer than it needs to be without it.??

Unfortunately, A Better Tomorrow does nothing to change the same trajectory Wu-Tang has been on for 20 years now, namely: never topping their debut album. But it also shows signs on new life and rights some of 8 Diagram's wrongs.

It's a worthy addition to any hardcore fan's collection, but if you're only a casual listener, feel free to skip this one.