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Oakenfold: Bunkka

Album: Bunkka
Label: Maverick

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In the mid-'80s, Paul Oakenfold was a central figure in the embryonic London dance scene that spawned globe-trotting rave culture. Inspired by the sun-kissed sounds of the holiday hotspot Ibiza, and fawned over by an audience just getting wise to Ecstasy, he helped create the giddy stylistic mishmash that would develop into the soundtrack for early English hardcore parties. But while the history books cast him as an architect of rave's inspiring tastelessness, Oakenfold's reign as "the world's biggest DJ" has been marked mostly by worst-case-scenario excess. Given over to frilly trance anthems and a bad habit of stretching Dead Can Dance vocal theatrics past their breaking point, Oakenfold's countless mix-discs have been lessons in overindulgence. He curbs his tendencies a bit on Bunkka, his first album of original material, but even the highlights are bogged down by ambitious aims that translate blindness as blandness. The album starts strong with "Ready Steady Go," a monster club track with spacious laser echoes and explosive Chemical Brothers breaks. But the dense layers get pulled into wispy strands by the second track, "Southern Sun," whose warbling Celtic vocals signal the bad things to come. Perry Farrell lends his voice to a spooky, string-drenched morality tale that cooks up a nice rave-rock groove ("Time Of Your Life"), and Emiliana Torrini proves a worthy Björk stand-in on the stirring "Hold Your Hand." But most of the album wavers around overripe global crossings gaudy enough to make a Sex And The City location scout blush. Oakenfold fares far better with hip-hop, nailing down a spacey street-slam with Ice Cube ("Get Em Up") and building an unlikely Jeep-rocker out of the guitar line from Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'" ("Starry-Eyed Surprise"). But while both songs boast an accomplished, less-is-more economy, the rest of Bunkka makes their elegance feel as out of place as "Nixon's Spirit," a bizarre spoken-word interlude in which Hunter S. Thompson tellingly remembers the ex-president as "a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest."