Arriving amidst a sea of forgettable Wu-Tang Clan solo albums and sketchy, only tangentially related side projects, Ghostface Killah's 2000 breakthrough Supreme Clientele generated the sort of excitement largely missing from the Clan since its early golden age. Sonic mad scientist RZA, Method Man, and modern-day folk hero Ol' Dirty Bastard had overshadowed Ghostface pre-Clientele, but with ODB in jail and RZA and Method Man branching out into other media, he swiftly moved to the head of the pack. Ghostface solidified his superstar status by dominating The W, Wu-Tang Clan's uneven but compelling third disc, and he reasserts his alpha-Wu status on Bulletproof Wallets, the feverishly awaited follow-up to Supreme Clientele. Equal parts sharply dressed playboy, hard-boiled storyteller, 'hood Dadaist, and unlikely pop star, Ghostface Killah rotates roles throughout his latest, adopting and abandoning personas with a twitchy restlessness. Surprisingly, his more commercial side provides many of Wallets' most transcendent moments. For most rappers, embracing poppy, R&B-leaning production and smooth crooning would seem like a blatant play for crossover success. Even at its slickest, however, Wallets' lyrical content remains wonderfully off-kilter; the silky-smooth vibe of tracks like "Never Be The Same Again" somehow makes Ghostface's demented lyrics and unhinged delivery seem all the more perverse. He proves equally adept at crafting gritty, noir-hued crime narratives ("Maxine"), perverse whimsy ("The Forest"), and smooth rap ballads ("Love Session"). The luster has worn off the Wu-Tang name to some degree, but Bulletproof Wallets, like Clientele, possesses a level of consistency and invention that hearkens back to the heady days of Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Ghostface also makes his presence felt on Iron Flag, Wu-Tang Clan's fourth album. Like The W, the disc initially sounds messy and self-indulgent, even unfinished, like a demo abandoned in a haze of blunt smoke before a final fine-tuning. Yet there's a method to RZA's sonic madness, and many of his stylistic detours, like the Sly And The Family Stone-meets-Freestyle Fellowship retro soul of "Soul Power ("Black Jungle"), grow more infectious with each listen. RZA handles nearly all the production, but protégé Mathematics produces the disc's best track, "The Rules," a blend of James Brown grunts, DJ Premier-style scratches, and Wu-Tang swagger, highlighted by a surreal tangent in which Ghostface helpfully volunteers to head up the war on terrorism. He and Method Man help fill the charisma void left by the MIA ODB, but the latter's presence is sorely missed, particularly on "Soul Power," where Flavor Flav—perhaps the only tragicomic figure in rap who can match ODB's flair for self-destruction—fills in as comic relief. More interesting than essential, Iron Flag may not win over those who gave up on Wu-Tang Clan around the time of Wu-Tang Forever, but the group's dedication to its own idiosyncratic path remains impressive.