The title of a popular rap album asks, Who Is Mike Jones? No one really knows. But who is Paul Oakenfold? Well, that's a bit easier—he's arguably the most famous and talented man in electronic music. That's not to say it's gone to his head, as he was gracious enough to grant me both a copy of his upcoming album, A Lively Mind (which drops June 6) and an interview.
A Lively Mind is a 12-track disc with a lot to offer. With guest appearances by hip-hop giant Pharrell Williams, the legendary Grandmaster Flash, and actress Brittany Murphy, Mind redefines innovation in electronic music. The first single, which was released to radio May 2, is the Murphy collaboration "Faster Kill Pussycat." With its melodic, sexy sound and lyrics, "Pussycat" sets the tone for the rest of the album.
"It suits the club scene, with the connotations of sex, the lyrics, and Brittany's voice," Oakenfold noted.
"Connotations of sex" is an understatement. The chorus is simply, "You turn me on, yeah, you're turnin' me, yeah, you're turnin' me on." And the end of one verse cuts right to the chase. "Come home with me when the party ends," Murphy insists.
"Faster Kill Pussycat" also marks Murphy's singing debut (unless you count her 10-second rendition of Coolio's "Rollin' with My Homies" in Clueless). Oakenfold said this was no coincidence.
"I wanted to go in [Hollywood's] direction. I knew that I wanted an actress who had never sang before. I wanted to go somewhere no one had gone before electronic music is a genre that requires risks," Oakenfold explained.
Well, Murphy and A Lively Mind were risks worth taking. Once "Faster Kill Pussycat" grabs the listener's attention, the forceful lyrics and addictive beats for which Oakenfold is known keep one's attention.
With its heavy beat and energetic vocals, "No Compromise" is a wise choice for the second track. The third song is another collaborative highlight, with Pharrell Williams singing "Sex 'N' Money," a song Oakenfold wrote about the superficiality of Hollywood. "Cold, cold, cold, but leaving me, hot, hot, hot," Williams croons like a whisper in the listener's ear.
"I love the idea of the collaboration bringing hip-hop and electronic music together . It wrenches the soul with lyrics that are very personal to me," Oakenfold said of the end result.
Hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash also makes a surprising leap outside of his genre to assist Oakenfold on "Set It Off." Other contributions are by lesser known artists and groups, two of which—Spitfire and Ashley of rock band Bad Apples—are signed to Oakenfold's record label.
Collaborations aside, it's the evolution of Oakenfold's signature sound that makes this album hypnotically addictive. It is, in every way, "balls to the wall" Paul. Highlights include all of the collaborations, "Save the Last Trance," and "Amsterdam," for the fans of more straightforward electronica.
Although Oakenfold slows to an electronic/piano-ballad hybrid "Just the Way," the rest of the album has you swearing you can smell the clubbers' sweat.
"This album is more geared toward the dance floor," Oakenfold said, comparing it to his previous work.
And, speaking of the clubs Oakenfold has been known to pack, he is currently on tour with upcoming dates in Europe. Comparing the current tour to those in the past, Oakenfold said, "If the record does well, we tour —the last album had us performing a lot of shows."
What does he predict this time around?
"I don't know if it will go that far. It depends on how the record goes."
That is quite modest for a man who has packed more clubs than anyone in his genre. Either way, even if you don't get a chance to catch him live, be sure to pick up A Lively Mind. If Paul Oakenfold's latest effort can turn Brittany Murphy into a singer, surely it can turn any room into a dance party.