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Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge, ‘Twelve Reasons to Die’ (Soul Temple)

Ghostface and Adrian Younge / Photo by Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU/Getty
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: April 16, 2013
Label: Soul Temple

Spoiler alert: Ghostface Killah ultimately wreaks gory revenge on the Deluca organized crime family that betrays him, though his girl Logan was the one who set him up.

That’s the crux of the plot running through Twelve Reasons to Die, recorded in cahoots with Los Angeles-based retro-fetishist producer Adrian Younge (although it also includes a peculiar scene where Ghost’s body is melted down into 12 pieces of vinyl, hammily narrated by executive producer the RZA). The newly minted chemistry here is decent — Younge recently resurrected ’70s soul men the Delfonics, and Ghost in the past has rhymed over loops of their songs, so a sample circle is complete — and suggesting our host channel his high-strung and wantonly wayward raps into a steady narrative makes practical sense. But the outcome is more curious than entirely convincing: It’s the rapper’s most focused album since Supreme Clientele, but it never quite fulfills the over-the-top thrills the album-as-pulp-action-movie premise teases.

Not unsurprisingly, you get the suspicion Younge that sank his heart into this project completely, while Ghost wasn’t quite as committed to the vision. The beats have an alluringly eroded quality to them: Crusty snares and quivering organ lines take charge and make the album feel as if it’s been constructed from a stash of RZA’s weathered vinyl. (The cod-operatic Greek chorus that chimes in occasionally is less palatable.) Younge’s careful work has the singular aim of harkening back to the Wu’s alchemic mid-’90s heyday, but Ghost errs on the sprawling side. The plot is concise, so he has a lot of bars to fill up, resulting in a great deal of repetition: He takes three songs to say what could have been more effectively rapped in one.

So even once you reach the point where — another spoiler alert! — Tony Starks has been resurrected as Ghostface Killah (a “black superhero with the immortality”), the blood-splattered butchery he rains down on the Delucas is spread over, yes, three tracks, and the promising idea of detailing six million ways to off a crime boss’ minions soon becomes a filibuster. (FYI, the techniques include nothing as gnarly as Meth’s ol’ Wu torture-tactics skit.) Twelve Ways to Die‘s plot line should be embellished with its hero’s feted eye for exquisite detail, but that’s too often absent. This is Ghost, after all: We want medallions the size of dinner plates and bright yellow Air Max sneakers radiating in the midnight drizzle; we want outlandish stage directions, like big Ghost stepping off laughing or moseying off gracefully. But the raps are all a bit rote.

This might all come across as critical nit-pickery on what’s mostly a very good album, but the concept betrays the end listening experience, leaving the unshakable feeling that it could’ve been a six-track EP, not an over-padded full album. As one of Ghost’s pals once put it, there’s much virtue in being half-short and twice-strong.