Sadly, during its legendary run, ITV’s long form documentary series ‘The South Bank Show’ never covered the tenuous links between underground hip-hop and underground hardcore. Had that fantasy episode become a reality, I’m sure Kool Keith would have been the Henry Rollins of the piece, given his pivotal place in the crossover via his unexpected appearance on Spazz’s La Revancha up to his recent collaborations with Justin Pearson’s Project B and Dead Cross projects. So the news that Dr. Octagon himself, one of rap’s most colourful and outlandish figures was teaming up with a full blown Power Violence band to make a full album – Thetan in this case – should not have surprised anyone whatsoever.
What may come as a surprise, however, is just how underwhelming the end result has turned out to be. While I can’t claim to be deeply familiar with Thetan‘s work, Kool Keith‘s back catalogue has a larger than life feel throughout. Yet here we are on an album that begins with the sound of an errant space voyage (‘My shit’s fucked up’ squeaks a chipmunk voiced alien during the intro, perhaps foreshadowing what’s to come) witnessing an artist being brought out of his usual stratosphere and falling to earth with less of a bang and more of a whimper.
To break the album down into individual tracks would be fruitless as all rest on a similar musical formula. Thetan provide a bass and drums backing, some squiggly noises are layered over each track, Keith spits his usual stream of sex based stream of conscious, much of which revolves around a character called ‘Vagina Lucy’, some guests drop by, repeat ad infinitum. This would be a fine formula were it carried off with any sense of gusto or imagination but the core problem is that neither party – the band nor the MC – appear to be firing on all cylinders.
Maybe it’s the production. The no frills ‘rhythm section in a room’ quality is too clean and flat where the good Doctor usually thrives in a purposefully artificial sounding musical setting. Thetan themselves don’t really have the swing or feel necessary to bring the soundscapes to life, and it’s really only when the dirty bass of the outro End Transmission kicks in you wish that maybe they’d added that filth to everything, poured a bit of petrol on the wood and set the thing ablaze.
Thetan provide a bass and drums backing, some squiggly noises are layered over each track, Keith spits his usual stream of sex based stream of conscious, much of which revolves around a character called ‘Vagina Lucy’…
But Kool Keith himself is not without fault here. His style has finally crossed from singular into one track, and his rhymes just don’t seem to land or impact with the music – it’s as if his voice was added without him ever having heard the tracks. And frankly while I’m far from a prude, as a guy whose cartoon sexism has been kind of given a pass for decades because of its’ sheer over the top calibre, by the 5th or 6th track full of nonsensical genital braggadocio it becomes both puerile and tedious to the point where you just want to shout ‘YES KEITH! SEX IS GREAT! WE KNOW, THANKS!’. It’s like listening to a dog discover its own bollocks for the first time.
As a short EP, this might have worked. Four or five tracks would have made the point perfectly, and if you were to just dip in and out there are a handful of enjoyable tracks – Complicated Trip, Hallucinations and Bad Dreams are all fine for example. But a whole album? The collaboration neither gels nor captures the imagination enough for it to work, and by the half way mark it feels like everyone involved is going through the motions. The highlight of the whole thing turns out to be the arrival of Brak from the ‘Space Ghost’ cartoon to deliver the chucklesome monologue Accolades.
Everyone involved in this album is capable of better than this as their own discographies amply demonstrate. At best Space Goretex provides a track or two where the novelty is sufficiently entertaining to raise a smile, at its’ worst you realise you’re listening to the local Limp Bizkit tribute band with a slightly better MC. A massive misdirection of considerable talent, all things considered.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes