, the latest solo album from Wu Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah
, is a comic book origin story in tone, style and content, as punchy and breathlessly paced as any Marvel comic. It isnt a coincidence that the main character is named Tony Starks (nearly the same name as Iron Man's civilian identity), or that there are a number of parallels between the story of 36 Seasons
and Iron Man
. The setting is a drug-and-corruption ridden Staten Island, Ghostface's Tony Starks is a former criminal given a second lease on life after a near-fatal betrayal, when a mysterious doctor slaps a mask on him, one composed of equal parts "Adamantium plus Vibranium." The record plays like a movie. Each song hits a narrative or an emotional beat, or establishes a character and then moves on to the next point.
The cast Killah has penned is composed of exactly the kind of colorful stereotypes you'd encounter in a comic from the late 60s, and are every bit as functional. Tony Starks is an avenging badass with a heart of gold, Ras is the treacherous best friend, the confoundingly named "Bamboo" (I can imagine anyone's ever saddled themselves with such an alias) plays the part of ingnue and the Mysterious Doctor X fills in on the role of mentor and mad scientist. It might have gotten tiresome if Killah had portrayed each and every role, given that he's not got the vocal range, but a cast of perfectly chosen singers keeps the waters flowing too fast for them to ever go stagnant: AZ lends a reptilian sensibility to the paranoid and canny Ras while Pharoahe Monch plays the part of Doctor X with such cartoonish zeal you wish he'd stick around; his funky style is as fresh as the album ever gets.
Where the various singers and rappers stay fresh and keep the story moving, the actual beats and melodies hobble it. The Revelations, who played producer on this album, often lend it a soulful touch not entirely unlike an old MoTown hit though they aren't afraid to swing back to brassier arrangements that often sound like Henry Mancini's brand of sleazy cartoon jazz. It sounds good and it's all very competently produced, but the problem is the pacing: its all off. Songs never seem to develop. Most notably the climactic track of the album, "Blood In The Streets," is stunted. The melody and the rhythm never grow. The beat doesn't work up to anything, but instead plays at a constant rate. The melody should ramp up and spotlight the tension, but it stays slack. In those spots where the album does slow down with a bit of introspective soul, like "Love Don't Live Here No More" or "I Love You For All Seasons," it loses the appealing sting of earlier, uglier numbers. All of this music sets scenes so well but it never gets the chance to do more.
It's pragmatic music, as purely utilitarian as the characters and the lyrics, which makes it perfectly serviceable as a comic-book album (and as a potential source of inspiration for a comic book someday soon; there's already a comic book included with the special edition) but also vacuous. It's popcorn music: saltier than bubblegum pop, and a bit richer in taste, but in the end it's relying on a similar kind of emotional short-hand to get its point across. It runs the very real risk of leaving a listener peckish. The album ends with the promise that Starks has only begun his war on crime and corruption; one hopes Ghostface is similarly dedicated to stepping up his war on mediocre music.
Watch the official trailer for the "Love Don't Live Here No More" video, below: