Norman Cook, Paul Oakenfold

Old tech and tackheads from back in the all-vinyl day surely recall "drum drops," those groovy discs of nuthin' but the drums, cut after cut of basic beat played by pro-session stickmen and women. Used primarily for movie and TV cues, as well as basic, pre-sampling looping, drum-drop records were entirely utilitarian devices -- if there were well-known beat-keepers drumming on them, their names didn't take top billing over that of the product.

Not so here. Even though the fine print on All Star Breakbeats and Bust a Groove makes it clear that these cut 'n' paste repositories are "Only for DJs and producers," the marquee names are those of two of the new era's great mixmasters. Mr. Cook, a.k.a. Fatboy Slim, former bassist and current hard-drive honcho, and Paul Oakenfold, a master of ambience plus rhythm, have created a pair of drum-drop collections for 2002, storehouses of breaks, beats, spoken samples, and somewhat recognizable patterns for those on the professional end of things. As such it's a treasure trove of nice little snippetry, some of which is actually credible as music on its own. The kickoff track on Oakenfold's disc, a blast of reed-driven bleet called "Sexy Sax," needs very little else to make it about as radio-friendly as can be imagined. Cook's offering is a little more intriguing, however. Seems that the (maybe?) former Fatboy must have had a deep love for proto-hip-hop Americana whilst he was plucking the four strings for the Housemartins back in the Eighties, because the first half-dozen tracks on his disc are fully the stuff of those first extended remixes, the cheesy handclaps from "Planet Rock," the big whomp under Run-D.M.C.'s "King of Rock," and more Prophet/Juno/808 thump than needs to be in one place. Amazing loopery when one considers it -- this is cutting edge yet fully retro at the same time. That's an achievement.

Lots of one- to four-second spoken-word bits adorn the endings of both of these discs, which at the end of the day must surely be considered assembly kits for club spinners more than anything else. And despite the name cachet accorded these two megahitmakers, these tracks could have been created by anyone, which is and has been the big knock on electronica for years, deserved or not. Actually the quandary is that most electro-pioneers are treasure hunters, preferring to dig out samples and weirdness on their own instead of appropriating these commercially available ready-mades. Call these CDs a nice bank of information for a DJ in a pinch for something sure-fire -- but really nothing more than that at all.

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Johnny Angel