24 May, 2007@12:00 am
During the 1990′s, Bone Thugs N Harmony were considered to be not only one of the best hip hop groups of that era, but in some circles maybe the best group of all time. Over hypnotic and at times eerie beats, Bone would deliver tales of murder, depravity, and redemption in the forms of harmonic, rapid fire lyrics. But with success comes pain and they have definitely experienced their share through label issues, the incarceration of Flesh N Bone, and the revolving door-like, but now non existent membership of Bizzy Bone, which all culminated in a string of sub-par albums and a long absence from the music scene. Now the boys from Cleveland return after a 5 year major release hiatus with Strength & Loyalty, a mediocre offering that will more than likely disappoint the most devoted fan while not gaining a vast majority of new ones.
Despite the darker spots on the album, there are some bright ones and they tend to appear toward the beginning of the album. The opening track “Flow Motion” is a triumphant, tone setting song that proves Bone is still at the top of their game, while “Wind Blow” finds them stepping out of their element of usual production to settle on a bluesy, rock influenced Fleetwood Mac sample as they reminisce over the thoughts and words of nay-sayers and non-believers. The lead single “I Tried” featuring Akon is a heart wrenching gem that has Bone looking back over the trials and tribulations of life along with self revelations exemplified as Krayzie croons, “My mind be racin’/And I don’t know what I’m even chasin’/Yet I’ve been in and out of relationships/And I’m startin’ to see its me with the complications…”.
Going further into the album, one could see the more disappointing factors. For one, the attempts at commercial success are evident in the tracks “Lil Love” featuring Mariah Carey and Bow Wow and “Candy Paint”. The former is an obvious reach for radio spins as Bone and Bow Wow rhyme over a very poppy beat with a lackluster hook that in no way compares to the level of the Bone Thugs and Mariah Carey previous collaborative hit “Breakdown” while “Candy Paint” has Bone uncharacteristically gloating about cars, their accessories and exotic colors. Another problem is the attempts to recapture past glory seen on the tracks “9mm” and “Gun Blast”. Both tracks seem to be lost songs from Art of War from their murderous, gun wielding lyrics down to the gun shot adlibs. The absence of Bizzy Bone is also a factor that one cannot leave out. Without him, the harmonizing does not seem the same due to the lack of his high, soprano voice that is not there to mesh with the others that fans became used to over the years. This is what makes “I Tried” so great because Akon is there to fill the void but unfortunately they went to the well one too many times with the uninspired “Never Forget Me”.
Overall, Bone Thugs N Harmony prove that they are still capable of making great music. But for a group that has been AWOL for so long, one would expect a more nuanced approach to this album and its subject matter. For it is when Bone rhymes about their problems and life in general that they are at their best, as opposed to when they are chasing mainstream acceptance and reverting back to former glory days. Strength & Loyalty is not terrible, but proves that the road back to stardom is not always the easiest path traveled.
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