Years ago, I had a phone interview with Tom Jones. His secretary promised me only 20 minutes, but Jones was in a chatty mood and before we knew it two hours had passed. During a discussion of his friendship with Elvis when they were both headliners in Vegas, I asked Jones why the devil he went to Nashville rather than Memphis. After all, his voice is pure soul and surely the King could have lent the Welshman his band, like he did for Dusty Springfield. “If only,” replied Jones. “But since I don’t write music, I have to go where the songs are and my manager found a slew in Nashville.”
Such is the dilemma of the DJ. Unable to produce anything but the most rudimentary of musics (cue Richie Hawtin / Plastikman), he or she must rely on the creativity of others to provide the wax from whence they can spin a career. God has blessed Paul Oakenfold with good wax, along with a surfeit of black boxes that allow him to synchronize beats and harmonize melodies into a seamless mix, as lush as it is intrepid.
His landmark release, Tranceport, introduced trance to North America. It can still be heard thundering out of sports cars and SUVs throughout the land. Alas, the record deserved a better fate than as mating music for swarthy macho clowns and their molls. Since his first visit to the Baleirics in 1987, Oakenfold has single-handedly crystallized the Ibiza sound, bringing together Italian disco, American house and European techno. Tranceport was a masterpiece, the apogee of his project.
Another World attenuates the relentlessness of Tranceport in favor of a more nuanced emphasis on melody and dynamics. Each one of the discs starts strong and bold, charging onward and upward. Listen, for example, to the wonderful morphing of vocals between “Take Me Away” by Chilled Eskimos and Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” as a woodblock pattern distracts your attention. Around the midway point, you notice a “softness” creeping into the mix. Oakenfold utilizes well-worn chill-out cuts by Dead Can Dance, Delirium and Vangelis to give listeners some heavy breathing room. What gives? It’s as if he’s pandering to the American audience, at once mocking while indulging its lack of familiarity with and allegiance to real “trance” as it is evolving across the pond.
Lotharios will appreciate this release as a sound track to their own personal Night at the Roxbury, complete with hot-tub finish. For the rest of us, we wait for the real Paul Oakenfold to emerge in yet another world.
Paul Oakenfold performs Wednesday at St. Andrew’s Hall, 431 E. Congress, Detroit.
Timothy Dugdale writes about books and visual culture for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].