There's Method To Method Man's Rhymness

There is enough variety among the 28 tracks on Judgement Day that even with it's hour-plus length, it doesn't get monotonous.

The cycle begins again...

In 1994, following the release of the Wu-Tang Clan's full-length debut,

Method Man put out Tical, the first solo release by a

member of the group.

No one was surprised that Meth was tapped to lead the Wu-Tang charge on

hip-hop and American culture. His gruff, charismatic voice was a

highlight of such Wu-Tang classics as "M.E.T.H.O.D. M.A.N." and "Protect

Ya Neck." He had hardcore rhymes for the roughnecks, a smooth delivery

for all the honeys and complex lyrics for hardcore hip-hop heads, male

and female alike.

And when Puffy remixed Meth's "All I Need," adding the soulful vocals of

R&B/hip-hop diva Mary J. Blige, not only did Meth find himself part of a

'90s pop-music classic, he woke up famous -- almost overnight.

Now it's 1998 and the Wu-Tang Clan have released their second

full-length album, over half a dozen core and periphery members of the

musical collective have solo albums, and it's time to start the cycle

over with Meth's new album.

Any doubts that Meth has fallen off in the last half-decade are squashed

by the RZA-produced "Perfect World." A quintessential RZA production --

with its trebly and rhythmically off-kilter, bass-drenched,

low-frequency sounds -- "Perfect World" comes not only with sonic

abstraction but with advanced lyrical abstraction as well.

Known as one of the sharpest lyricists of the Wu-Tang Clan (in a crew

chock-full of 'em), Meth has a lot to live up to. Despite the fact that

he's dissed his own debut, saying it was the weakest of the Wu releases,

it's nonetheless a tough act to follow. Perhaps one reason why it took

so long between albums is that he's a perfectionist. Meth has obviously

learned a thing or two, not just lyrically, but production-wise as well,

as "Judgement Day" demonstrates.

Just as the Puffy remix of "All I Need" was un-Wu-like, "Judgement Day"

is gleefully atypical as well. Produced by Method Man, "Judgement

Day" features an up-tempo, bouncy rhythm that you can actually dance

to -- kind of a disco-fied, end-of-the-millennium, apocalyptic ditty

complete with sci-fi echoes, rumbly bass, trebly sounds and descending,

digitized vocal cries.

Speaking of atypical Wu-tunes, the RZA-produced "Retro Godfather" is

party-rockin' fun as well. Sure, like any respectable RZA production, it

has strings -- but in this case it's more of the '70s Barry White or

Donna Summer, mack-daddy/soul sister variety. When you combine that with

syncopated drums, a funk-a-fied bassline, Meth's baritone voice and

lyrics that don't merely rhyme at the end of every verse (but at times

rhyme every other four words), you have yourself another Wu masterpiece.

There are also plenty of typical Wu-tunes produced by RZA proteges

True-Master and 4th Disciple, and by RZA himself. But there is enough

variety among the 28 tracks that even with it's hour-plus length, it

doesn't get monotonous (like some Wu and Wu rip-off productions of

late).

And, yes, I said 28 tracks -- and it's only a single CD! The

numerous tracks are partially the result of the frequent skits on the

album, which are, like most hip-hop skits, unnecessary. I mean, for

God's sake, with few exceptions, most MCs' talents lie in rhyming, not

comedy. Fortunately, on several skits, Meth hired professional funny men

Chris Rock and Ed Lover, whose work elicits laughter rather than

fast-forward button-pushing.

He also has other good buddies with him, most notably Meth's best

partner in rhyme, Redman (on "Big Dogs"), as well as the excellent

D'Angelo collaboration "Break Ups 2 Make Ups" and numerous cameos by the

newest kid on the block, Streetlife.

All in all, Tical 2000: Judgement Day works better than almost

all previous Wu-Tang jams because of sonic variety, lyrical intelligence

(save for some dumb forays into sexism and homophobia) and charisma.