Album Review by Mark Bayross
Despite the fact that DJ artist albums haven’t had a good press of late, Paul Oakenfold, arguably the biggest superstar DJ of them all, has joined their ranks with his debut album BUNKKA.
Having produced and remixed the likes of New Order, Happy Mondays, U2 and Madonna, written music for films and TV (“Swordfish” and “Planet Of The Apes”, not to mention the “Big Brother” theme), founded Perfecto Records, and pioneered the birth of the Ibiza dance scene, this, his first bid for credibility as an artist, is still a brave step into the unknown.
Still, this is Paul Oakenfold, friend to the stars, and unsurprisingly, he has managed to draft in an impressive array of guest singers to give voice to his creations – one, sometimes two, for each track. He has also, for the most part, stepped away from the populist trance that made his name and embraced a diverse range of sounds, covering the influences that he says comprised his formative years.
The eclecticism of the album is probably best illustrated by its lead single, the double A-side of the beat-heavy Prodigy-style READY STEADY GO (with So Solid Crew’s Asher D on vocals) and the blissed out Balearic trance of SOUTHERN SUN. Between these points lie Delerium-esque ambient (ZOO YORK), cartoon hip-hop (STARRY EYED SURPRISE, with Crazy Town fool Shifty Shellshock), scary hard man hip-hop (GET EM UP, with Ice Cube), and trip-hop (HOLD YOUR HAND, sung by Emiliana Torrini).
When it works as on the breakbeats-meet-euphoric trance epic MOTION, you are reminded why Oakey has been the producer of choice for some of the biggest names in the music world. On paper, the idea of having Grant Lee Phillips, of early 90s country-rockers Grant Lee Buffalo, front a dance record seems insane. Yet somehow, it really works, as his voice soars to meet a spectacular crescendo on each chorus.
But trying to cover all bases is always a risky business – someone usually ends up feeling short-changed. The dark, brooding NIXON’S SPIRIT, with vocals by legendary author Hunter S Thompson, is impressive, but far too short, while the closing string-laden duet THE HARDER THEY COME is ruined by Canadian screecher Nelly Furtado, her whiney little-girl vocals drowning out Tricky’s trademark menacing rasp.
Still, BUNKKA is an ambitious and enjoyable album. It shifts musical styles without losing focus, and naturally, the depth and breadth of production is excellent. It doesn’t all work, but it would be hard for fans of electronic or dance music to not find something they like here.