Album Review

Wu Tang

“”The Clan Strikes Back””

Sony Music

B+

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When RZA proclaimed on “”Wu-Tang Forever”” that “”the next Wu album ain’t even comin’ out till the year 2G,”” many scoffed at the notion or dismissed it as typical Shaolin posturing. Then 2000 came and true fans waited eagerly until the release-heavy fourth quarter rolled around for RZA’s prediction, given some four years prior, to be realized.

The Wu Tang Clan has been hip-hop’s leading innovator since the early 1990s, when they released their seminal debut, “”Return to the 36 Chambers.”” Since then, the members of the Clan have released several sterling solo projects, another group album and appeared on many collaborative projects, all the while spawning legions of imitators — most of whom aren’t worthy of carrying Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s urine sample.

Now the boys are back with their new album, “”The W,”” a banging collection of RZA-produced gems that will have even the most skeptical Wu fans bobbing their heads.

The record features a return to the eerie, gritty style so prominently featured on early Wu works but which has recently been replaced with a more glittery and commercialized sound that attempts to appeal to the mainstream.

“”Hollow Bones,”” one of the album’s best tracks, is vintage Wu-Tang at its finest. Over a looped sample of a bone-chilling moan, RZA couples a subdued bass line with jangling strings to provide Ghostface Killa, Raekwon and Inspektah Deck with a desolate sonic soundscape over which to drop their tales of misery.

Many will mourn the near absence of Ol’ Dirty, one of the Wu’s most charismatic members. His presence is reduced to a set of prerecorded verses thrown together with an almost unlistenable Snoop Dogg guest spot, since ODB was in rehab for much of the album’s production.

Despite the lack of material by the Dirty one and the atypical inclusion of guest appearances, which — other than the Redman verse on “”Redbull,”” only detract from the album — “”The W”” is an impressive collection of tracks and a much-needed return to form by the Shaolin MCs.

— By Scott Burroughs