Paul Oakenfold returns with his second proper “artist” album, A Lively Mind. The sequel to his 2002 release Bunkka which served to impress this listener at the very least with its firm embrace of Oakenfold’s dance roots and its impressive roster of guest stars making appearances on a wide variety of its tracks. Known to the world at large for his DJ skills and his capacity as a producer and a remixer of other peoples work. It’s interesting to see how someone responsible for the shaping of other people’s music gets on when he is left to his own devices.

What you get here follows the formula of the preceding album. Twelve tracks featuring a raft of guest stars adding their vocal talents to the mix. Maybe not as consistently high profile as the people found on Bunkka but then not complete unknown quantities either. The big names on display this time are Pharrell Williams, Brittany Murphy and the venerable Grandmaster Flash. This time round Oakenfold has unashamedly sliced through big chunks of musical history and pulled out riffs and beats that he proudly holds aloft before slapping them all over the tracks he has laid down as templates.

On this outing we get fierce chunky riffs that have toppled straight out of T.Rex’s back catalogue, in the same breath we hear the brooding tones of the James Bond theme and some of Fatboy Slim’s earlier riffs (straight from the seminal Better Living Through Chemistry era). There are little slices of KLF not to mention cheeky nods to The Rolling Stones as well as his own back catalogue (Not Over as you might guess owes a little debt to the earlier Not Over Yet by Grace). The production shines, its as bright as polished metal and it shows that if nothing else Mr Oakenfold can still cobble a track together and in terms of being dancefloor friendly the album undoubtedly has the right credentials for a night of hot and sweaty shape throwing.

Tracks such as the current single “Faster Kill Pussycat” might have stolen its riff from Bodyrockers but the results are frothy and immediate but it’s the immediacy of this work that starts to unveil some of the flaws in this album.

In the long term there is a distinct feel that Oakenfold might just be doing this all by the numbers. The musical equivalent of a comfort zone so to speak. Whereas “Bunkka” possessed tracks that would never fail to give you the big adrenal push on to the dancefloor, this time round there is an over reliance on the segments of musical history that pepper the works.
The vocal performances by Ryan Tedder on a number of tracks are good enough but offer nothing of particular originality. The track with Pharrell Williams is once again average and when you consider what Williams has been responsible for creating in the past you wonder if his input on this track is particularly valid this time round. Wheeling out Grandmaster Flash for a showing on “Set It Off” seems more an exercise in name dropping his co conspirator than anything else and is unfortunately one of the weakest cuts on offer. There are some worthy moments however, “Praise The Lord” and “Save The Last Trance For Me” have a broad dynamic sound to them coupled with those big tidal riffs that he still does so well.

As a whole the album demonstrates Oakenfold’s abilities as a first rate producer but on the flip side shows a set of songs that are slightly flabby and lack the momentum of innovation that he has demonstrated in the past. By no means terrible but perhaps a little guilty of treading water in the writing stakes.

One for the committed fan only methinks.