Wu-Tang Clan Iron Flag

Ghostace Killah's Supreme Clientele broke a string of underwhelming Wu-Tang releases and unwittingly elevated Ghost (aka Tony Starks) to the title of the Clan's most consistent member. Given his penchant for blurting out particularly random, head-scratching rhymes - he's probably the only MC to ever rhyme kiwi with ziti - he's not the most likely candidate for stability. Probably in response to the unexpected popularity of his last album, Bulletproof Wallets represents the quickest a Wu solo artist has ever released a follow-up to their previous album, and thoughts that the album sounds rushed gain credence when you realise the track listing and the actual order of play on the album are totally screwed up. One could be forgiven for thinking we are in for an album full of classic Wu material when Ghost launches into "Maxine," a vivid narrative where Ghost humorously impersonates the characters in his tale. He reprises this tactic on "The Forest," a track where cartoon characters such as Pippi Longstocking are recast in the hood. This illogical streak, along with Ghost's energetic mic presence, is exactly why heads love Ghost, and it's especially disappointing to hear him caged on trite R&B tracks like "Never Be The Same Again." The album definitely has its moments, with some hard, invigorating beats provided by RZA, the Alchemist and Allah Mathematics, but the album is weighed down by tracks yearning for pop appeal that stick out like a sore thumb. The chief culprit here has to be "Ghostshowers," which blatantly tries to recapture the spirit of "Cherchez Le Ghost," the surprise hit off Supreme Clientele. Thankfully, Ghost doesn't have to worry about trying to save the Clan all by himself, as the Wu seem, at least for now, to have righted the ship. Iron Flag is a return to gritty form, with the Staten Island crew determined, hungry and fixated on proving that they can still spit potent rhymes. Raw production is delivered from RZA and Mathematics, and, surprisingly, the Trackmasters come through with some serious head-nodders, elevating the MCs into delivering bare-knuckled verses. While Flavor Flav's comic relief on "Soul Power" (presumably to fill the ODB role) doesn't quite work, "Rules," "Y'All Been Warned" and the dirty cop fable "Babies" are top-notch material. There are definitely some misses, with spells of disinterested MCs rhyming over too obtuse beats, but the energy level far surpasses last year's The W. While their declaration, "Face it, the Wu is back," on "Uzi (Pinky Ring)," may be a little premature, this is definitely a step in the right direction. (Loud)