If we’re being honest here, nobody expects much from the Wu-Tang Clan. The sprawling Staten Island hip-hop dynasty made its name with its epochal debut, Enter the Wu-Tang, and a still-impressive opening salvo of spin-off solo albums. Since then the group and its extended family tree have in essence been coasting off its totally original mythology (which acolytes can even study via producer-mastermind RZA’s excellent book, The Wu-Tang Manual). Yes, the story has been written already, and these days the only Wu surprises come when the massive and independently minded crew gets it together to show up at the same place and same time for albums and live dates.
That said, while 8 Diagrams, the group’s first disc since 2001, is predictably uneven stuff, it’s hardly lifeless. RZA’s production is near its murky best, kung fu film samples and all, while MC staples Ghostface and in particular Method Man step up with the goods. “Rushing Elephants” is deceptively laid back, “Starter” is a straight-up underwater trip, and “Unpredictable” works as a tightly wound and nicely weird posse cut. “Wolves” even ropes in George Clinton to try and outgonzo RZA with his non sequitur rambling. “The Heart Gently Weeps,” on the other hand, is a weak stunt that features Erykah Badu, Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante and Dhani Harrison (George’s son) wading a little too comfortably into the broad, slow-moving waters of bland. It’s a low point on a mixed disc that’s otherwise just diverse enough to tip the balance in its favor.
Wu-Tang Clan plays Metro Saturday 15.