Despite rumors that one of the few MCs to have taken the Hippocratic Oath had met his demise (in the opening track on the 1999 Dr. Dooom -- another Kool Keith creation -- album First Come, First Served), Dr. Octagon was, in fact, alive and though the actual events were unclear (they always are with aliens), while the Doctor was away, his unauthorized clones began moving throughout the galaxy with the purpose of destroying each world in it. (This entire story was revealed in an eight-episode online comic that marked the eight weeks prior to the release of the new album.) The clones were apparently controlled by a giant gorilla with malicious intentions, and it was only a matter of time until his pursuit to obliterate the universe and Dr. Octagon led him to our own planet. Simultaneously, but equally as grave, Earth's inhabitants were systematically destroying themselves with bad music. We desperately needed a savior! Luckily, not only was Dr. Octagon ready and willing, but this time -- unlike in Dr. Octagonecologyst, when the MC's concern was more on the "health" of the female body -- The Return of Dr. Octagon finds someone who's matured somewhat, whose focus has broadened, and who's truly worried about the state of humankind, both physically and musically; in short, someone who could truly save the world.
What propels Dr. Octagon and his new album to the ranks of superhero isn't just the MC's new topical focus. It's the beats. Dr. Octagonecologyst showcased the sparse, slightly eerie work of Dan the Automator, leading to numerous collaborations and projects for the producer, and though assuredly Mr. Nakamura would have done a fantastic job again, Keith went with the three-man team One Watt Sun, who truly make the album erupt in crackling, electrified explosions of keyboards, processed guitars, horns, and turntables, knocking politely and then shoving its way into pop, dirty blues, rock, and R&B. There are few samples -- much is produced organically -- and the themes twist through and out of each other like dervishes wildly reaching some kind of esoteric, exalted spiritual plane. Lyrically, the album is as creative and innovative as what you would expect from someone who wrote a song called "Halfsharkalligatorhalfman," and it generally sticks to the motives for Dr. Octagon's return as the songs' themes. There are aliens, of course, like in "A Gorilla Driving a Pick-Up Truck," where electrified dusty blues licks blow like thunderclouds across the plains and Dr. Octagon's low, breathy voice tells the bizarre story of being chased by a huge primate and attempting to ward it off, but there are also as many, if not more, songs about man's own behavior toward himself and his environment. "Using material for Christmas, papers get printed/Trees may get extinct like the elephants," he says in "Trees," and though here listeners may just have to trust his abilities as an oracle, there's something about the way he says it that makes it seem absolutely believable. The Return of Dr. Octagon doesn't always make a lot of sense, but that's the beauty of it. It's a kind of concept album that concentrates more on the actual overall sound than the concepts. Its elements are all on the very edge of control, which is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time; if it works, it could bring us to where we've never been, protect us from what may be, but if it fails, it could kill us all. And though perhaps we may have to wait for a new album to see if the gorilla wins in the end, for the moment it seems as if we're safe.