Picks and Pans Review: The Art of War

updated 09/22/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/22/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

Cleveland's premier rap group follows its multiplatinum, 1995 full-length debut (E. 1999 Eternal) with a double CD that is bound to frustrate as many listeners as it satisfies. Having previously distinguished themselves on singles like "Tha Crossroads" as gangsta rap's answer to Liberace, with a rococo mix of glitter and gunplay, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony takes the logical next step: a sprawling concept album. Too bad their unique blend of bullet-fast rhymes and smooth R&B crooning, best showcased here on "Look into My Eyes" and the gunshot-punctuated "Thug Luv" (with a chilling guest turn by the late Tupac Shakur), quickly runs out of ammo. Blame it on the near-parodic solemnity of their streetwise psalms or on their plodding, profanity-laced perspective. Either way, despite a flurry of rave reviews and a No. 1 debut on the pop charts, The Art of War is an uphill battle. (Ruthless/Relativity)

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