Nearly as soon as The Saga Continues had been announced, Wu-Tang Clan fans began to joke the album existed solely to spite pharma/rap/Twitter villain Martin Shrekli. For those that live under a more pleasant rock than ours, he had, after all, bought up the only copy of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, only to hoard it and engage in bizarre beef with Wu member Ghostface Killah when called out for his business tactics. While he is namedropped here, that's certainly a more romantic notion than the reality.

To those who have not closely followed the once indefatigable, legendary group, the almost complete lack of fanfare with which this “album” was announced might have been surprising. Alas, figurehead RZA has long been in the Wu business, rather than in the business of making Wu music. For those that don't pay much mind to the fine print, let's be clear: he did not produce this album. Instead, longtime associate DJ Mathematics is left to shepherd a haphazard assortment of what are essentially Wu solo joints into a cluttered compilation gilded into the appearance of a Wu-Tang album proper. RZA makes his presence known with a negligible intro and outro, as well as a few verses sprinkled throughout, but he mostly gives off the air of having stamped his name for legitimacy and moved on. In his defense (or to his detriment, pending how you look at it), RZA did distance the project from the idea of a true-Wu entry in a statement, but by literally sticking the group's name in the release's title, the salesman's intent is clear.

To be fair, not all is lost. Mathematics is an able producer, and brings some fine beatcraft to the table, and, naturally, it's still nice to hear your favorite Wu personalities, even when they all seem to know the stakes are decidedly low. Method Man shows up the most, suggesting he was either most desiring of a quick paycheck or simply hangs out with Mathematics the most. Perhaps due to this, Redman also pops up on the three tracks, acquitting himself with more energy than most of the actual Wu members present, but still managing to sound like a tired version of his once irrepressibly zany self. Unsurprisingly, GZA (wisely) seems have given the whole affair a miss. Ghostface, on the other hand, lends his hand to several cuts, but Raekwon barely pops by (though, to his credit, he sounds fully committed with his barbs on ‘Fast and Furious’).

Naturally, this has always been part of the Wu's charm, not feeling the need to clutter every single member onto every track, with a revolving door of who clocks in for each project. Here, however, they rarely grace the same song at all. Album opener “Lesson Learn'd” is an Inspectach Deck solo cut, with Redman hopping along, and while Deck has an argument for most underrated Wu presence, it's still telling that someone with his place in the overall group hierarchy is left to open the show all alone. There are also awkward skits scattered throughout, extolling the importance of the black family, and the man's role in them, which may be well-intentioned, but with none of the musical tracks relating to the topic, they're as awkwardly wedged in as if an action hero stopped mid-film to remind viewers that smoking is bad: okay, thanks, now get to it!

There are bright spots. ‘People Say’ was no mistake of a lead single, as it's likely the best showing to be found here, but ‘Pearl Harbor’ provides a nice backdrop and a posthumous Sean Price verse. ‘My Only One’ boasts the kind of drumbeat worthy of classic Wu, and an energetic Cappadonna verse, but is crippled by its pop chorus; it'd sound at home (if dull) on a younger rapper's radio single, but sounds completely out of place here.

As a compilation, this collection isn't without its charms. RZA and crew simply shot themselves in the foot posturing to present it as an album, shoving upon it the expectations such a farce brings. Their last proper album, A Better Tomorrow, was a mess, to be sure, but all members were present with creative cylinders firing, at least striving to add something different to their catalog. The Saga Continues, despite being a passably entertaining listen, is a grimmer entry, as there seems to be no concern for their legacy left. Mathematics’ efforts are admirable, he hoes his damnedest to recreate a classic Wu vibe, but the whole presentation is gilded, the rappers themselves largely going through the motions. With that level of talent in the room, of course it's still palatable, but the taste of greatness hardly lingers. We have seen countless Wu-Tang side projects, limp cash grabs, and forced collaborations, but if this is now meant to be the future... let's just stay in the past.