After a decade of proudly releasing offensive, obnoxious, and immature music that sold like gangbusters to kids around the Midwest, the Insane Clown Posse finally reached their much-prophesied "sixth Joker card," the last album in a conceptual journey that started with 1992's Carnival of Carnage. Claiming that everything up to this point had led to The Wraith: Shangri-La, they announce at the beginning that the meaning to their career will become evident by the end. And they wait until the very end of this ambitious album to reveal what it is, despite the occasional reference to Shangri-La (their bland metaphor for the afterlife). Waxing philosophical about ending the world's pains, ICP seem willing to spread some good vibes this time around. "Juggalo Homies" might even be the most positive song of their career; it actually has a great message about loyalty and friendship matched to a pleasantly laid-back rock track. Of course, the usual murder fantasies and sex anthems are in abundance, filled with the immature humor that has become their tired trademark. Oddly enough, they almost seem to apologize for repeating their usual hate raps on "Thy Staleness," which ends with the repetition of "I'm so sorry I'm stale" in a chanted singalong. A stab at a thuggish street anthem, "Ain't Yo Bidness," is a blatant Eminem ripoff, but their twisted lyrical focus robs the song of any of the self-reflective cleverness that he would have brought to it. But the second half of the song is a definite highlight, as guest rapper Esham helps the Motor City clowns deliver a high-energy ending to an otherwise pedestrian track. In their attempts to change things around, their trademark circus music sound mixes well with rap-rock, and several songs (especially the double punch of "Crossing the Bridge" and "Thy Raven's Mirror") offer a very original twist on the genre that is distinctly their own.
Finally, the album reaches its grandiose ending and reveals that the secret behind the carnival was really...God? Sure enough, their rape fantasies and necrophilia tributes were all orchestrated by the creator of humanity, or at least that's what the clowns say. To say that this is a disappointing way to end their first six records is an understatement, as their evil image and downright hateful early years clash harshly with their sudden new age attitude. Even if it is a joke, it isn't a funny one, or even a clever one. The Wraith does reveal growth both lyrically and musically, but the lofty, feel-good ending is jarringly out of place considering all the hype about the deeper meaning of their message. It's impossible to believe they could have had any religious intentions, kidding or not, planned during the Carnival of Carnage years, but this is the kind of skewed logic that has fueled their career. And if you don't agree with them, they've already anticipated that reaction with the last lyrics of the record: "We're not sorry if we tricked you."