In 1996, Dr Octagon was insane. During a time when gangsta rap reigned supreme, a concept album about a time-travelling gynaecologist from Jupiter was something from another galaxy. But the trio of rapper Kool Keith, producer Dan The Automator, and DJ Qbert created a hip-hop masterpiece with their debut album, Dr Octagonecolygyst (the group doesn’t count the 2006 album The Return Of Dr Octagon). Regrouping 22 years later for their long-awaited sophomore album, Moosebumps, the album’s opening announcement, “People are going Octagon crazy!” doesn’t exaggerate the anticipation for their return.
Moosebumps starts where their debut left off, recreating the burbling pleasures of ominous sci-fi synths, Gregorian chants, and echoing trip-hop beats on opening track “Octagon Octagon”. All that is needed are Kool Keith’s warped rhymes. Instead, we’re greeted by a barrage of lines featuring ‘Octagon’ as every second word, e.g. “Octagon rice with octagon beans with octagon shrimp”. It’s a shame to not hear any of Keith’s surrealism, but as the track continues the rhythmic repetition proves memorable.
The non-sequiturs come fast and sharp on “Polka Dots”, including the early lyrical highlight, “Like Dave Grohl my beard grows to my vocal tone”. Keith is at his best when his weirdness dives into filthy territory like he does on highlights “Power Of The World” and “Operation Zero”, especially on the former when he blurts, “I remember girls playing with my scrotum like a hi-hat”.
While the first half of the album recreates the sounds and vibes of their debut, the second shifts into new terrain after DJ Qbert’s manic scratch workout “Bear Witness IV”. Dan The Automator recreates the blipping beats of his other project Deltron 3030 on “3030 Meets The Doc”, featuring that project’s lead, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien. The biggest shift is “Flying Waterbed”, a soft R&B number filled with lush strings and chimes, and a hook sung by Interpol’s Paul Banks. Unfortunately, Keith sounds out-of-place on both of these new experiments. Even when in familiar territory like the chugging metal guitars on “Karma Sutra”, where he’d be a natural at describing grossly funny sex, the best he can do is the sloppy, “My penis pop like popcorn”.
Closer “Hollywood Tailswing” sees Keith’s lyrical abilities return; describing a stampede of twisted creatures over a stomping beat. With a minute of the track left, Keith’s voice drops out, leaving the beat to lurch to the finish. It could be that he’s run out of ideas, which could also explain the repetition in opener “Octagon Octagon”. It’s a shame Keith struggles to keep up with his cohorts, but at least there are flickers of the mad genius of old. It may not be the mind-bending brilliance of old, but Moosebumps has enough to satisfy fans.
Review Score: 6.1 out of 10.
Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation is out now.