Interestingly enough, Tical 2000: Judgement Day was the first sophomore effort from a Wu-Tang Clan member (GZA’s Liquid Swords is arguable depending on stance) and the first time we see a Shaolin fore-bearer follow up a widely acclaimed debut.
A product of its time thematically, Judgement Day is naturally built around apocalyptic allusions and unhinged beats (think Busta Rhymes’ When Disaster Strikes…), ingredients that the Ticallion Stallion traditionally relishes. Indeed, his spliff-shrouded, nightmarish accounts and distant yet rigorous perspectives on the kill-or-be-killed ghetto war zone are as persistent as a haunted grandfather clock’s pendulum.
There is noticeably more emphasis placed on the latter here, signifying a very lyrical and surprisingly accessible project. Paranoia and the sussing-out of jittery looking corner boys are guaranteed in any case. So the question is: does Iron Lung fashion another legendary weapon?
We get off to a convincing start. Following a short introduction, which serves as a millennium launch procedure, the listener is plunged into a desolate, disease-ridden Y2K full of bleak soliloquies, unnerving descriptions and quiet street menace. The unearthly shuffle of ‘Perfect World’ and the thumping ‘Cradle Rock’ (where Left Eye shares chorus duty and supplies a nonsensical but nevertheless imposing spoken word outro) are like bottled samples of what this environment would probably sound like. From track four onward however, the subject matter becomes progressively conventional and the album’s concept anchored by sound rather than lyrics (a minor quibble considering that Tical 2000 is actually one of the less digressing albums of its kind). Reassuringly, Method Man and co. are accomplished artists and can elevate anything roaming seemingly banal territory to formidable heights. ‘Sweet Love’ is an enjoyable sex romp featuring a well-judged vocal excerpt and an entertaining Streetlife verse while ‘Suspect Chin Music’ is simply one of RZA’s best ’90s concoctions.
The ubiquitous and well-balanced presence of in-house producers bestows a pleasingly gritty, modest variety to proceedings. Erick Sermon, Havoc, Prince Paul and Trackmasters make up the outsiders and each contributes only once. Choppy piano keys, dissonant strings and rattling hi-hats are trademarks of Method Man’s sonic palate and all are executed more than competently throughout. Unfortunately, once the album exceeds its late teens, the acerbic soundscapes begin to drag a little. There aren’t enough truly distinct moments to break through the bulk (‘Retro Godfather’ a sadly brief oddity) and one gets the sense that some moderation would have served the record’s progression far better. Pointless skits cheapen it slightly, but they’re hardly detrimental. Johnny Blaze himself is in very good form and his penchant for gloomy imagery and persistent hooks remains strong (‘Torture’ and ‘Elements’ are both near-masterclasses). True, there’s hardly an abundance of thrilling, deranged performances á la Tical #1 and a slight lack of focus means Tical 2000 doesn’t quite live up to its overbearing title but the gravel-mouthed delivery and increasingly workman-like, scrupulous flow parallel a mostly focused musical backdrop perfectly.
Relief (or variety) finally rears its head again in the form of ‘Big Dogs’, which is equivalent to staggering up a staircase and discovering a low-key party after being trapped in a basement for half an hour. Hot Nikkels and weed-smoking cohort Redman do what they that they do better than anyone – trading goofy, vulgar lines over flatulent funk. Next is penultimate song ‘Break Ups 2 Make Ups’, a spare R&B style jam with a simple guitar loop that shows impressive restraint alongside neo-soul giant D’Angelo’s delicate crooning. We now arrive at the album’s true ground zero and title track ‘Judgement Day’. Picking up where 2 and 3 left off, Meth resumes a prophetic tone and cleverly utilises a detailed countdown as the chorus. The up-tempo beat is strikingly more polished and electronic in feel than its neighbors but still fits the bigger picture with acutely layered arrangements and concludes things authoritatively.
Like many late ‘90s hip-hop albums, Tical 2000 is overlong and coupled with a tracklist padded by novelty spoofs; even so, it’s an unfairly overlooked volume in the Wu canon and few weak moments can be traced. Taken as a mere assemblage of tracks for picking and choosing rather than an adhesive front, it consistently satisfies and a small cavalcade of gems awaits the un-ordained.