Wu Tang Clan and Ghostface Killah

Plus Led Zeppelin

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8 Diagrams


The Big Doe Rehab

(Def Jam)

The ghost of legendary rap wild man Ol' Dirty Bastard looms large on 8 Diagrams, the fifth disc from his former comrades in the Wu-Tang Clan and the group's first since ODB's fatal collapse in the Wu recording studio in late 2004. On "Life Changes," the eight surviving MCs pay homage, and Genius/GZA's words are the most powerful put to tape: "I cried like a baby on the way to his place of death/ Hate not being here the minutes before he left/ Now I'm in the booth 10 feet from where he lay dead/ I think about him on this song and what he might have said."

That melancholy tone dominates the remaining 15 tracks as well, with group mastermind RZA supplying some of his gloomiest beats to date. "The Heart Gently Weeps" features an interpolation of The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," with contributions from George Harrison's son, Dhani Harrison, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante and neo-soul chanteuse Erykah Badu. "Sunlight," meanwhile, is an eerie creeper woven around RZA's marble-mouthed flow.

Only the sunlight of the album's lone banger, "Wolves," penetrates the general sense of doom, although that's not really a complaint. The Wu does evil better than all comers, as evidenced by the sharp strings and brutal percussion of "Unpredictable."

Meanwhile, Ghostface Killah — aka Ironman, Tony Starks, Pretty Toney, etc. — sounds like he wants to party. The most consistently awesome MC in the Wu stable, Ghostface last week released The Big Doe Rehab, his seventh solo joint and his third since March 2006. Like his past two discs — Fishscale and More FishBig Doe contains heavy doses of neck-snapping beats and old soul samples, topped off with Ghostface's hyper-detailed, often bizarre lyrics about the drug game and living the fly life.

"We Celebrate" is Ghostface's obvious stab at pop crossover success, and while the track is serviceable, we don't turn to Ghostface for radio jams. We turn to Ghostface for bizarro-concept tracks like "White Linen Affair (Toney Awards)," the man's vision of his own personal awards show, with a guest one-liner courtesy of fellow rapper Shawn Wigs (introduced as "Shawn Rickles"). We also turn to Ghostface for keen-eyed glimpses of the underworld and impeccable storytelling, displayed here on a sequel track to Fishscale's "Shakey Dog." What other MC, in the middle of a violent crime narrative, would digress about the poor job OxiClean does removing those pesky bloodstains?

When you add it all up, neither 8 Diagrams nor Big Doe will replace any of their creators' previous classics in the hip-hop canon, but to the heads it hardly matters. Both discs are proof that Shaolin's finest still have something to say. 8 Diagrams: 3.5 stars The Big Doe Rehab: 3.5 stars —Cooper Levey-Baker

The Soundtrack From the Film The Song Remains the Same (Remastered/Expanded)

The original Led Zeppelin live double album from 1976, gussied up and goosed with six previously unreleased performances, including a tour-de-force of "The Ocean," hits shelves when the band's profile is higher than it has been in a decade. New best-of collection (Mothership), one-off reunion show (Dec. 10 in London), rumors of a world tour — it's a good time to reassess this live collection, which was much maligned when it was first released. Despite what you might have read, heard or remembered from the original vinyl, eight-track, cassette or shitty, unremastered CD version, The Song Remains the Same should be mandatory listening for anyone with an interest in this primal force called rock 'n' roll.

Culled from three performances at Madison Square Garden in July 1973, TSRTS finds singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham at the tail end of a massive world tour unlike anything ever witnessed. While junk coursed through their veins (well, Page's at least) and visions of tender groupies danced in their heads, Led Zeppelin seized the stage in New York City and offered an outsized display of sonic decadence — a death rattle of supreme magnitude: ferocious but unfocused howling; vicious but self-indulgent guitar solos; erratic but awesome drumming; taut but barely audible bass, and keyboard playing that's borderline prog nausea in places.

When Plant moaned "push push" on stage in 1969, the singer sounded like he might actually be able to satisfy every damn person in the building. But by the summer of '73, the Golden God had finally showed signs of mortality. Incapable of hitting many of the high notes, he sings in a lower register, adopting a gruff, sinister tone not heard on studio recordings. During the 29-minute version of "Dazed and Confused," Plant quotes "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)" with the conspicuous cynicism of a man who has seen the flipside of the hippie dream. Later, in the same epic number, Page wields his violin bow, dragging it across his Les Paul until its sounds like wraiths swooping down from the rafters.

As for pure musical merit, How the West Was Won is the definitive Zeppelin live album. But TSRTS shouldn't be dismissed. It's rock 'n' roll excess encapsulated: mean, perverse and savage, a historic document heated by massive egos and sexual energy — even if Plant does fake an orgasm or two. 4.5 stars —Wade Tatangelo

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