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Dr. Octagon - The Return of Dr. Octagon

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Artist: Dr. Octagon

Album: The Return of Dr. Octagon

Label: OCD International

Review date: Jun. 29, 2006

Since his standard-setting work with Ultramagnetic MCs, rapper Keith Matthew “Kool Keith” Thornton has shifted to a creative station somewhere between Ol’ Dirty Bastard and the Sun City Girls creation Uncle Jim. A sideways iconoclast and an unrelenting oddball, he might be one of the least disciplined rappers out there (way out there), relying on crude, cryptic surrealism and an inconsistent, deadpan delivery over tightness or technique. He has released an immense amount of music and assumed a large handful of personae; however, his most name-checked work remains the 1996 album Dr. Octagonecologyst, a collaboration between the then-not-yet-ubiquitous Dan the Automator and a deranged, lustful quack named Dr. Octagon. Doc Oc was ceremoniously killed on a later album, and now, 10 years after his debut, returns somewhat anti-climactically to life.

From the sound of Return, the German production trio One Watt Sun does most of the lifting. While Automator’s absence will cause the record to be rejected on sight by a certain percentage of diehards, it's their well-earned loss. OWS makes a warm, brilliant commotion, almost unbearably dense and yet persistently funky and inventive. On the first three proper tracks (the rubbery “Trees,” the psychedelic disco number “Aliens” and the thudding, grandiose “Ants”), the team jells well; Keith’s rambling, vaguely misanthropic lyrics fit right into the producers’ singular carnival pop. It starts out sounding like the most galvanizing, ambitious album of the year.

This considerable momentum is not sustained, not even through the album’s scant 34-minute running time. On “A Gorilla Driving A Pickup Truck” (which, as has been pointed out, sounds rather like a mean Buck 65 parody), the doc’s vox disappear into the slide-gilded atmosphere rather than deepening it. Despite some clever lines, the blue-balled sex jam “It’s the Morning” does little but affirm Thornton’s Notorious B.I.G.-level tone-deafness. The album’s skits promise both the uncanny humor of Dr. Octagonecologyst (“The Turtle Skit”) and a quick laceration of Keith’s less sympathetic fans (“Don’t Worry Mz Pop Music”), but fall short of either mark.

The heads are wrong about one thing: Automator was not at all crucial to the first record’s weird charm. That one had a personality at the fore. This one doesn’t, and although One Watt Sun make some thrillingly busy neo-disco, they don’t have nearly as much with which to work. Keith’s vocals are cut and pasted all over this thing. Some lines are gratuitously scratched, or run through goofy effects. One of Keith’s supposed collaborators, a guitarist named Fanatik-J, has alleged that the touchy recluse himself was not involved with the mixing, and that his vocal tracks were effectively “stolen.” While I wouldn’t give that guy much credence, there ain’t much here that squashes his case. And why the hell does Princess Superstar’s coy patter take up almost all of the closer “Eat It”?

The good stuff (those three tracks, and maybe the indignant “Al Green”) provides Kool Keith an appropriate showcase and sounds like nothing else, but for much of this disc, the main man appears AWOL. We’ll see what he puts out next month. Meanwhile, someone should give Axl Rose the One Watt Sun business card.

By Emerson Dameron

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