The battle for the soul of the Wu-Tang Clan is quite evident on the superstar group’s first record in seven years. Producer RZA is moving in a more mainstream direction that seems uncomfortable for a number of the MCs. Throughout, there are short bursts of lyrical excellence, especially from GZA, whose artfully shaped verses shine. The production, often incorporating live instrumentation and some squishy hooks, often seems antithetical to the vintage dirty Wu sound. The best songs, “Ruckus in B Minor,” “Hold the Heater,” and “Necklace,” have the most grit, with densely woven lyrics. Ghostface Killah and Raekwon barely register, though, and there’s a desperate need for more of Method Man’s wit. While RZA’s desire to evolve is laudable (drumline, terrific), the flawed musical execution on sluggish tracks “Ron O’Neal,” “Miracle,” and “Preacher’s Daughter” is at odds with the rappers’ combustible virtuosity. What made the Wu the Wu just ain’t something to mess with. (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “Ruckus in B Minor”Ken Capobianco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.