It’s fair to expect big things from someone of Paul Oakenfold’s stature, especially when considered to be the biggest DJ in the world. The London born DJ/ producer/ remix artist is universally respected and regarded as one of the most important figures associated with the rise of dance music into mainstream culture. So with any release that has his name—it garners serious attention. A Lively Mind, Oakenfold’s second full-length production, commands this sort of attention.
Unfortunately, with attention comes expectation of absolute excellence. With Oakenfold’s huge reputation, its appropriate to expect something equally as huge in terms of a creative product that’s cutting edge. Particularly with original productions from a man that spends the majority of his career on continuous DJ mixes and remixes.
His first stab with original material, 2002s Bunkka, fell flat. Despite the daring and ambitious attempt, it didn’t translate. The disjointed affair was seen as a stretch—its unbalanced feel left a dull veneer on the finish.
This time around, while more upbeat and balanced, A Lively Mind again falls short of the lofty expectations bestowed to him. Many of the songs feel contrived, with no forward progression, as Oakenfold seems to effortlessly revert back to all things trance.
It doesn’t start that way though. With Brittany Murphy employing excellent vocal abilities on the opener, an electro burner—“Faster Kill Pussycat,” it appears that Oakenfold is trying something altogether new. It continues with the help of hip-hopper Pharrell Williams on “Sex ‘N’ Money.”
Now expecting variation, Oakenfold’s trance element emerges dominating six of the nine remaining tracks. While this can be seen as a balanced attack (6 out of 12), and it sort of is, it’s obvious what Oakenfold uses as a fallback option. With “Amsterdam,” “Praise The Lord,” and from the title “Save The Last Trance For Me,” he shows his strength—trance productions. These tracks, along with “Not Over,” offer Oakenfold fanatics their fix. But to others, it may be annoying to hear the same ole’ watered down epic trance formula.
This aside, checkout “Vulnerable” featuring Bad Apples on vocals and the Grandmaster Flash contribution on “Set It Off.” These tracks give A Lively Mind gentile variations away from his aforementioned leanings.
On the good side though, ALM represents Oakenfold’s clear positivist mindset. The songs are fun, playful, and open. This is a good thing. With that, ALM will be fully pleasing for the die-hards. But for the rest of us—it disappoints. Maybe though, we simply expect too much from a once groundbreaking DJ that isn’t anymore.