I can only hope that the lack of his best friend Raekwon means that we’re to expect Only Built For Cuban Linx… Pt. 3 soon.
Anyway, admittedly, I had low hopes for this one; Ghostface Killah has been disappointing people since 2006’s Fishscale. Add to this the fact that I had no idea who Adrian Younge was going in, and that lyrically, Ghostface Killah is nowhere near who he was in prime – one of the reasons why 2010’s Apollo Kids and 2012’s Wu-Block barely got any reception at all. Furthermore, Ghostface Killah’s lyrical content here revolves only around (yawn) mafioso-subject matter – frankly, the whole “The DeLucas pressed Tony’s remains into 12 vinyl records / One for each member of the family” (this is a real line from the album) business is eye-rolling. To make matters worse, Ghostface spends half the time dropping as many Wu-Tang Clan Easter Eggs as possible – needlessly, I might add – for example, “Bring Da Ruckus” gets mentioned on “Enemies All Around Me” while “Protect Ya Neck” gets a shout on “The Sure Shot (Part One & Two).” So how does Twelve Reasons to Die succeed? It’s all Adrian Younge, who takes full advantage of an extremely tight live band and technological advances between the 90s that he seeks to emulate and now, which makes me think that he’s the sole reason that Twelve Reasons to Die succeeds.
I don’t know if it’s only a matter of age creeping in, but apparently, Ghostface Killah can no longer write a love song to save his life (“Child’s Play” always struck me as oddly romantic for a Wu-Tang member). To put it into perspective, I’ve been more convinced of romance handled by George Lucas and spoken out of the emotionless robot that is Hayden Christensen than listening to Ghostface on “The Center of Attraction.” “She was a jelly to my peanuts” would have been a much better line has Ghostface just went ahead and said “She was a jelly to my penis” and didn’t follow it up with an equally meaningless and rhyme-for-rhyming’s sake, “Mars to Venus, and if Cappadonna ignored the whole ordeal instead of further bringing it up, “She’s not your peanut butter, more like a fucking nutcase.” Um…hey Capp? If you were paying attention, Ghost didn’t call her his peanut butter, he called her his jelly. Also, unironically saying “El capitan” is only acceptable if you’re singing “La Bamba.”
Unfortunately, Ghostface Killah isn’t the only one to blame for the level of cheese in Twelve Reasons to Die. I get that Adrian Younge was influenced by a lot early cinema, but apparently he’s missed the fact that only the cheesiest of films begins with the cheesiest of expositions (Film-making 101, people). I also don’t know what his penchant for high-pitched voices are; it seems the hooks have to be sung in falsetto. For the most part, I have no problem with this, but the one on “Revenge is Sweet” is kind of grating. That’s one of the reasons why “Blood on the Cobblestones” is an easy standout – the “hook” isn’t sung, it’s scratched. Wonderfully, I might add. And while we’re on the subject of nitpicks, I really wish the closer and title track opened the album instead, which would’ve acted as an overture (I’m quite certain I read in an interview that Adrian Younge was influenced by the Who’s Tommy to make a concept album). Instead, we have one of the worst concluding monologues I’ve ever heard, “Unable to become immortalized in life, Ghostface became (dramatic pause) immortalized in death […] Gangsters told their children to never double-cross a man whose will is so strong that he could cross the planes of existence to get his revenge and there you have it (dramatic pause) the story of the Ghostface Killah (roll credits).”
Elsewhere, William Hart (of the Delfonics) drops a soulful hook on “Enemies All Around Me,” but any tension created by Adrian Younge’s team is sacrificed by the cheesy lyrics, “Enemies all around me / One mistake and they’ll down me / They just wanna rain on my parade.” Elsewhere, on “Beware of the Stare,” Ghostface Killah says, “I want mothers and sons, I wanna murder their daughters.” Why murder their daughters, but not their mothers and sons? He obviously wants to murder them too, but the delivery is awkward, an obvious case of fitting with the rhyme and the flow. On the other hand, his trademark delivery fares better on the opening verse of “Murder Spree,” where he just goes off about the “dozen ways to die [and] six million ways to do it.” I have no idea what possessed Ghostface to tunelessly sing out “Starks is reborn as the Ghost…face…KILLLAHHH!” at the end of the first verse on “The Rise of Ghostface Killah,” something that reminds me of the wonderful “Special ladyyyyyy” of “Jellyfish” seven years ago. And while I could easily look the other way thanks to the Western-styled guitars, unfortunately, Adrian Younge brings that line back for the track’s conclusion, this time scratching it over and over in a dramatic buildup to a tuneless and laughable end.
But for all the cheese weighing Twelve Reasons to Die down, there’s a lot of good that Adrian Younge’s team brings to balance out. “Beware of the Stare” is almost too innocuous of an opener, that is, until the 1:51 mark when the bass leads us into a church-like organ (probably just a normal keyboard) that carries the track out. Meanwhile, “Rise of the Black Suits” has a nice nice piano riff coming in the right channel and the screams in “I Declare War” is the album at it’s most cinematic (reminds me of Raekwon’s “Ice Cream”), especially the second time around when they’re heard under the chorus, giving the “I declare war, war on the DeLucas” line so much more emphasis. The aforementioned scratching on “Blood on the Cobblestones” leads us into a blast of horns and back again. The last few seconds of “The Center of Attraction” sounds like something Brian Eno would’ve done in his pre-ambient lifetime while the live drums on “The Sure Shot” are fantastic, especially the fill that bridges the two parts of the song together.