By the time the Wu-Tang Clan finished their first round of solo projects and reconvened for their second album as a group, the double-disc album had become the hip-hop fad of the moment. So why not give it a shot? With a main crew of nine MCs (plus new protégé Cappadonna), the Wu wouldn't have to depend heavily on guest appearances to flesh out two whole discs of material, as Biggie and 2Pac had. While the result, Wu-Tang Forever, is frequently brilliant, it's also sprawling and unfocused, losing its handle on the carefully controlled chaos of Enter the Wu-Tang. On the one hand, there's more social consciousness on Wu-Tang Forever, taking hard looks at ghetto life while finding pathos and offering encouragement and uplift ("A Better Tomorrow," "Impossible"). On the other hand, you also get some of the group's most explicit sex raps yet ("Maria," "The Projects," the utterly bizarre ODB solo track "Dog Shit"). In other words, the group is starting to go off in more individual directions here, making it harder to maintain an overall focus. Once you get past the rambling Five Percenter introduction, the first disc is pretty tight, partly because it was kept short to leave room for enhanced CD content. The second disc is far too long, diluting the impact of its better songs (the terrific single "Triumph") with an excess of lackluster material. Wu-Tang Forever easily would have made a brilliant single CD; RZA's production is more polished than the debut, thanks to a bigger budget and better equipment, and leans heavily on soundtrack-style strings to underscore the album's cinematic scope. Some hailed Wu-Tang Forever as the best double-disc hip-hop album yet released, but others regarded it as a disappointment; despite its many high points, it's the first time the Wu didn't quite fulfill their ambitions.