Sasha Frere-Jones at The New Yorker:
The most surprising thing about “A Better Tomorrow,” the latest album from New York’s Wu-Tang Clan, is not that it is generally strong but that the fractious nine-person group ended up making any kind of recording together at all. For its previous studio album, “8 Diagrams” (2007), Wu-Tang Clan ended up touring without its founder, the RZA, who had produced most of the album. RZA, meanwhile, conducted a solo tour of his own, at the same time. By doing more visible work, including writing soundtracks for Quentin Tarantino, RZA had alienated his own group. As he told me, referring to Raekwon, a core member of the clan, “He said I was a hip-hop hippie with a guitar.” Hippie tag aside, this isn’t unfair. RZA said that he wrote many of the tracks for “A Better Tomorrow” on guitar, first, later voicing the compositions with samples or other instruments. But the Wu still mostly sounds like the Wu, and a newcomer who has never encountered the most famous band from Staten Island would do fine to start here.
The Wu-Tang Clan’s long career mirrors the comic books and kung-fu flicks that its members grew up loving: colorful and intense, and longer on respect than on widespread mainstream acceptance. Like cheap Canal Street mixtapes and kung-fu DVDs, Wu-Tang has never had enormous commercial success, even at the height of the CD era. In twenty years and five albums, the group has sold only a little more than six million records, according to Nielsen SoundScan.