Boy George gave up a good thing back in the mid-'80s when he left his new-wave reggae outfit Culture Club and its unit-moving profit potential. Drugs, egomania and personal conflicts have claimed casualties among many of pop music's best contributors, and Mr. O'Dowd was no exception. But the dandy of London's nightclub scene has slowly climbed back on top. His Essential Mix, released through DJ Pete Tong's long-running series of the same name, is a calling card for his decade-long re-invention as superstar DJ. And though it maybe tempting to try, it's impossible to dismiss the mix-CD as a poor substitute for "Karma Chameleon."
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Essential demonstrates that George has developed not only a sure technical hand behind the turntables, but a fine sense of how to keep the party pumping, too, which is the true aim of a quality DJ mix. Opening with Boogie Macs's cover of "Girl From Ipanema" and featuring Cultural Diversion's "See Thru (MPcs Mix)" in the first ten minutes, Essential places itself firmly in the land of popping, down-tempo house. Flirting openly with London's latest mainstream club phenomenon known as ragga two-step -- check out Baby D vs. Trick Or Treat's "Let Me Be Your Fantasy" -- George discreetly reminds listeners of his own band's early adoption of funky, equatorial party music, be it African or Caribbean. Frequent collaborator Kinky Roland appears with a couple of recordings and mixes, including his ecstatic "Born Kinky," which marshals a deep Manhattan bassline as a launching pad for an airy house workout. And the inclusion of George and Roland's remix of Amanda Ghost's "Filthy Mind (Trancesexual Mix)" demonstrates an ongoing fascination with those in-demand pop talents currently generating a lot of buzz on the scene. As a solo artist, Boy George had only one Top 40 American success: The Tennant-Lowe-produced torcher "The Crying Game," in 1993; his studio recordings fell well south of the hit-making status he achieved in the '80s. With this in mind, his decision to exchange a life in front of the microphone for one behind the tables seems a wise move. Best of all, the old Boy seems to be finding contentment -- as well as creative success -- in this new realm. Essential Mix is a worthy reminder that there is life after pop-culture domination.