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Music Review: Paul Van Dyk – Volume

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Paul Van Dyk's new best-of release, Volume, is what his prior best-of, 2003's Global should have been, but it was just much too early. Having now spent the better part of a decade and a half in the upper echelon of the Dance and DJ scenes, he's one of the few brand names that can support a more mass-appeal release such as this, coupled with the fact that he has consistently cranked out quality club tracks. Which is what this release is really all about.

Volume is divided into two discs (or sections, if you are partial to the digital release). The first is the actual best-of, showcasing a prime sampling of some of Paul's most well-known club and album tracks. The second is a collection of some of his more high-profile remixes for other artists. Both discs are also mixed as DJ sets, so tracks flow from one to the next, seamlessly as a unified listening experience. This is in keeping with many of Paul's albums, but is just a note for those who might be new to the genre.

Disc One starts off strong, with a new reworking of his breakout song "For An Angel." The new version is a great lead track, as it stays true to the feeling of the original, while updating the sound and energy just enough to make it club current. The bass is kicked up a notch, and the lead synth parts are augmented and spaced out to nice effect. The original is still a solid sounding track on its own, so the new tweaks serve merely as added flavor.

"Home" follows, and is a new track gracing the set. Featuring vocals from Johnny McDaid of the group Vega 4, "Home" is the second collaboration between the two, a sort of follow-up to the single "Time Of Our Lives" from a few years ago which also closes the set. These are some of the strongest and catchiest tracks on the release, and one can only hope that these will continue.

Vocal collaborations in general are a distinction between this new best-of and the previous release, Global. Paul's past two artist albums have had a much stronger focus on vocal tracks, especially geared towards club and radio singles. Both "Let Go" and "White Lies" are taken from his most recent album In Between, while "Nothing But You" reaches back an album prior, to Reflections. All of these display a more modern club sound than Global and make this new outing, in general, a more solid best-of release.

Things dip back into the vaults a little bit for the middle section of this disc. "Another Way" is a classic PVD track – presented here as the club mix – that still sounds as strong as it did when released. As does "Forbidden Fruit," which keeps the retro feel going, before moving into the lush swell of "Together We Will Conquer." These first two segments of the disc present an excellent cross-sample of Paul's blend of simple, direct melodies with a solid command of dancefloor polish.

The only misstep is the inclusion of "A Magical Moment" from his debut release, 45 RPM. Although long-time fans may enjoy this nostalgia, it is noticably weaker than the rest of the set, and seems to serve only as a token representation from his earliest period (the new reworking of "For An Angel" notwithstanding).

Things pick up steam quickly to close things out, with the extended original mix of "The Other Side," which was originally a single featured on his DJ release The Politics Of Dancing 2, but also a well-traveled club hit in its own right. Closing things out are two of Paul's best vocal collaborations: "We Are Alive" featuring Jennifer Brown, and the previously mentioned "Time Of Our Lives" with Vega 4.

Disc Two displays Paul's turns at reworking hits by other high profile artists, in everyone from Justin Timberlake and Britney, to music for the new Batman movies. It's a bit more of a mixed bag; not just because you're dealing with some fairly varied source material, but mainly because Paul's primary strength isn't necessarily as a remixer. Granted, his prominence within the Electronic music scene puts him on the short-list of people who would get these calls; but his actual skill at remixing is probably the weakest tool in his tool chest.

Things start off strong with a good re-imagining of Justin Timberlake's "What Goes Around… Comes Around." His music lends itself to lighting up a dancefloor, so it feels like a natural fit. And although Paul's own music leans towards the trance end of the electronic scene, the craft of a DJ is to hit the pulse of a crowd, and finding the groove of other styles set before you. And this is one of the better examples Paul gives, as the dance-funk of Timberlake's music meets the deep German precision that Van Dyk specializes in.

Things are a bit less positive beginning with U2's "Elevation." Although it does work as a club mix, it forces a more far-reaching style to become "club-tastic," which is not always a successful, or particularly even desired, proposition. Following that are remixes of Depeche Mode's "Martyr," Timo Maas's "Pictures" and New Order's "Spooky." Although all would lend themselves to being likely remix fodder, here they take on an edge that is often too dark and plodding. Although an older remix, the New Order one is the strongest of the three, and on its own has some strengths that give its own unique twist to the track. But in amongst the rest, it's not enough to raise its comrades and provide much interest beyond your standard four-on-the-floor filler.

Humate's "Love Stimulation," and later, Binary Finary's "1998" are two early classics of the trance genre that receive Pauls's treatment. Although a bit historical at this point (both the originals and the remixes included here), they still hold up admirably well and are good extensions that stay true to the spirit of the source material. "Love Stimulation" especially, was one of Paul's early successes, and shows his adept turn at a genre he helped to define. For many these tracks will be a nice trip down memory lane.

Both "Bring My Family Back" by Faithless and "Poor Choice of Words" (from Batman) by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard do little to impress. Partly because they feel a bit generic-clubby, but mainly because they contain so little of the source material that you might as well be listening to anything. They're not bad as distractions, but neither do they do much to distinguish themselves.

Fortunately, the tail end of the disc actually comes across pretty well. The remix of Lisa Miskovsky's "Still Alive" (the theme for the video game Mirror's Edge), and Britney Spear's "Gimme More" are both well done and do commendable jobs of raising the energy level of the tracks without letting them veer off the rails.

Volume does a good job of offering both substance and quality, as long as you view the remix disc outing as a legitimate bonus instead of a crucial part of the value proposition. The best-of section is a solid and highly enjoyable journey through Paul's production repertoire. The remix section is on the enjoyable side of weak, with points marked off mainly because it's being compared to much stronger material before it. However, as both discs are mixed, they offer two high-energy sets that most people who enjoy club music should find enjoyable.

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