If you spend any amount of time in the music industry, you don't so much work in it as you become it. You assume its bizarre, trend-driven logic as your own, and artistic and commercial motivations intertwine with each other so tightly, they may as well be the same damn thing. So even if Paul Oakenfold has made his name by DJing a sort of lifestyle-based dance music most Americans still can't understand, he can still draw on more than 20 years of experience as an A&R man, music label head and good buddy of Bono to seduce the skeptical.
So it's highly probable that Bunkka, his first-ever artist LP, could charm the ants out of many a middle American's pants. Of course, those looking for something a touch more progressive will need to step aside. After all, the man's got a world to conquer. And from the looks of it, Oakey has enlisted quite an army to help him. Drawing in more guest stars than a September 11 telethon, Bunkka brings in Perry Farrell, Ice Cube, Grant Lee Phillips, Nelly Furtado, Tricky, Crazy Town's Shifty Shellshock, and Dr. Hunter S. Thompson to illustrate that electronica can possess star quality. As for the music itself, Oakenfold basically provides three distinct sounds here: party-oriented hip-hop (Ice Cube's "Get 'Em Up" and Shellshock's "Starry Eyed Surprise," the latter of which bizarrely samples Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'"), soft, pop-oriented trance ballads (any track with female vocals on it) and overblown, breakbeat-based dance material.
And some of it does work: The single "Ready Steady Go" definitely barbs into your brain the way any good pop tune should. But Oakey is only as inspired as his guest stars, and sometimes, as on Farrell's "Time of Your Life," he virtually buries them underneath layers of production. And Hunter S. Thompson demonstrates his painful need to retire from public discourse with "Nixon's Ghost," a senile rant that shows the not-so-good doctor drifting further into a psychedelic ether of Learyesque insignificance. No doubt, if Oakenfold has his way, we'll be hearing all of these tracks on television commercials and movie soundtracks for a long time to come.
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As Oakenfold and his U.S.-based peer Moby certainly have discovered, electronica works best for the mainstream as the background for a hip, jet-setting individual's fast-paced digital lifestyle. Those who remember the good old days when music actually spoke to specific events in life may shed a tear in recognizing this, but they may as well give it up. For Oakenfold understands as well as anyone that modern pop music is inseparable from an intricately interconnected matrix of guest stars, multimedia tie-ins and product placements. And after 20 years of following the zeitgeist, Oakenfold proves on Bunkka that he's not about to get in the way of progress.