It's true what they say about how time seems to whizz past as you get older. I still think of this as the new Ghostface record, despite it having come out over a decade ago and being, according to Wikipedia, eight albums past for Mr. Killah. Well, I only just happened across a copy recently, and I've been having a pretty busy time of it over the last decade, so that's my excuse.
For anyone suffering an even greater degree of either senility or general ignorance than myself, Ghostface Killah has long been one of the main reasons you would ever buy a Wu-Tang Clan record - a man named after someone from a martial arts flick and one of the few rappers who can get away with breaking down in James Brown-style tears on a stage without having tiresome wankers question his masculinity. His delivery is engaging and so intensely personal that it's hard not to find yourself affected, drawn into the telling, even given how seriously fucking weird that telling can sometimes be - the rap Mark E. Smith on some days, if that isn't too lazy an analogy.
Fishscale - slang for the absolute Ferrero Rocher of nose candy, you may not be entirely surprised to learn - is unusually focussed, and low on random bursts of surrealism, instead seeming to follow a loosely coherent narrative. Admittedly it's probably not the first time we've encountered said narrative - times being tough, selling the nose candy just to get by, memories of wetting the bed and getting spanked, life on the mean streets and so on and so forth - but it's as valid a tale as it's ever been given that the same terms and conditions still apply for half the people listening to this thing and some of those involved in recording it. Additionally, it's worth remembering that Ghostface is more or less incapable of delivering a prosaic line and could make a laundry list sound like a matter of life and death.
It probably helps that Fishscale is musically similar to Supreme Clientele - his previous masterpiece - being a rough and raw summation of old soul moves which really hit the point home, giving a rich and emotionally potent support to the story as it unfolds; and yes, soul music - because we seem to have forgotten how that stuff was once as raw and painful as fuck, a very different, significantly more powerful beast than the slick and shiny suited croon-wank it became in the eighties. Ghostface clearly hasn't forgotten, and here we get something warm with bad lighting, broken piano and horn sections rescued from crumbling old eight tracks and scratchy discs cut in dirt cheap studios. It has the feel of a live band without sounding anything like one, definitely something organic, even when it obviously isn't - the tape recording of a ping-pong match looped to embellish the beat on Dogs of War, for example; the terrifying drone of Clipse of Doom; and Jellyfish which weirdly reminds me of Stereolab. At least on this album, Ghostface Killah, excels at giving you something entirely unlike whatever you've already heard which nevertheless feels as fundamentally rooted in the very heart of its culture as anything which ever happened in a Bronx basketball court in the seventies. It should also be kept in mind that this review is probably a verbose load of old wank, so it would be easier all round if you just listened to the album.