On Everything Is Wrong Moby proves to be a master of many musical styles, and this dabbling back and forth between styles is part of what makes this schizophrenic album so interesting. However, it's also what makes it frustratingly add up to less than the sum of its individual parts, spectacular though those parts sometimes are. For example, the three disco tracks are terrific. “Feeling So Real” matches catchy female chants with rapped male vocals and furious dance beats, while “Every Time You Touch Me” and “Bring Back My Happiness” are beat-driven songs with bright synths, perky piano, and soul diva vocals. Other completely different highlights include the gorgeous ballad “Into The Blue” and the supremely sad but undeniably beautiful “When It’s Cold I’d Like To Die,” which ends the album on a celestial, hymn-like high; both songs are exquisitely sung by Mimi Goese. The spiritual quality of the latter song is shared by (appropriately enough) “Hymn,” a soothing ambient instrumental that opens up the proceedings, and the ethereal 7-minute “God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters.” Unfortunately, Moby won’t let go of a good thing, as these m-e-l-l-o-w songs (and “First Cool Hive”) lock into a melody and then repeat it ad nauseam, which can get pretty boring after awhile no matter how majestic the melody. Elsewhere, “All That I Need Is To Be Loved” delivers turbo-charged but also repetitive techno punk, “What Love" is a grungy electro blues that’s marred by its grating thrash metal mid-section, and “Anthem” again repetitively picks up the pace for an odd hybrid of ambient techno. Rounding out the track listing, “Let’s Go Free” (a blatantly unnecessary hip-hop misfire) and the title track are merely filler segues into more substantial material. In short, Everything Is Wrong is an inconsistent but at times dazzling album that exudes a warmth that’s rare for electronic music. However, Moby needs to better focus his material and present a more coherent vision if he’s ever going to produce the masterpiece that he seems capable of.
Animal Rights (Elektra '97) Rating: B-
“All That I Need Is To Be Loved” and “What Love" offered mildly interesting changes of pace on Everything Is Wrong, out of place though they seemed. However, here the grungy numbers make up half the album, and though I'm all for an artist following his muse, punk/hard rock simply isn't what Moby does best. Then again, the mellower material that makes up the other half of this album isn't as memorable or as hypnotic as those types of tracks on Everything Is Wrong, either, though most of it qualifies as pleasant background music. That these mood enhancing segments are polar opposites of the "in your face" material makes me wonder exactly what Moby was trying to achieve here. Fortunately, many of the songs themselves are good. For example, "Come On Baby" is kinda catchy, "Say It's All Mine" is a rare effort that effectively mixes in both soft and hard elements, "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" is a melodic cover of an old Mission Of Burma tune, "Face It" is a big rock move that holds up for almost 11 epic minutes, and "Living" is almost overwhelmingly pretty. Had these songs been better strewn together, without the filler that mars too much of this album's self-indulgent 73 minutes, Moby could've had another winner on his hands. Then again, this album isn't nearly as bad as the critics (who were harsh), the public (who stayed away in droves), and his record company (who dropped him) would have you believe, and a programmable cd player can make this album's dual moods make perfect sense.
Play (V2 '99) Rating: A-
After another less interesting interlude in between called I Like To Score (Elektra '97), this critically acclaimed album saw Moby back doing what he does best. Again delivering a dazzling array of styles but better paced and less schizophrenic than Everything Is Wrong or Animal Rights, on Play Moby uses old blues and gospel samples (via Alan Lomax field recordings) to excellent effect. The end result is an invigorating integration of the old with the new, and an album that can appeal to just about anybody. For example, Moby mixes in some lovely synthesized soul ballads that would be the envy of the Pet Shop Boys or Simply Red, and his lyrics, which in the past could be annoyingly preachy, hit on a very human level here (example: “I never meant to hurt you, I never meant to lie, so this is goodbye”). Elsewhere, we get treated to the oddly infectious chants of “Honey,” unstoppable techno with supercharged electronic beats layered over some hard rock guitar (“Bodyrock”), what sounds like a light and catchy barbershop quartet (“Run On”), and trip-hoppy atmospherics (the short “Down Slow” and the Tricky-ish “If Things Were Perfect”). Like his previous two albums, Play unwinds with several mellow songs, which here serve mostly as pleasantly forgettable mood (i.e. background) music. Play is likewise overly repetitive (and overly long – I usually find myself programming songs 1-9, 11, and 18), but this time out the album’s relatively concise song lengths prevent it from ever really dragging too much (if you want to listen to the entire album). On the plus side, “My Weakness” is among Moby’s most majestic ambient pieces, while “Porcelain” and “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?” are other stunning highlights. Also notable is the hypnotic “Natural Blues,” which features the best use of the haunting female backing vocals that are so prominent throughout this album, and “South Side,” which became a belated hit in 2001 when it was remixed and released as a single with sexy Gwen Stefani on backing vocals (and more importantly, co-starring in the video). But though that was the album’s lone hit single, most of the rest of these songs should also sound familiar, as Moby took the unprecedented step of licensing every single one of these songs (to movies, TV shows, commercials, etc.). This move had a far reaching effect, as many artists would follow his lead and commercials soon became a better place to check out hip new music than on the radio! Of course, taking such a road to platinum status had many of Moby’s older fans crying “sellout,” but they certainly couldn’t fault most of the actual music here.
18 (V2 '02) Rating: B
Moby is an artist who has always delighted in doing the unexpected. For example, the wildly diverse Everything Is Wrong proved that Moby was not merely a DJ but an extremely talented musician. Afterwards, Animal Rights was a bipolar mix of ambient and grunge music that puzzled the few people who bothered to listen to it, before Play culminated a spectacular comeback by going platinum 10 times over, a feat that was largely accomplished with the aid of old soul and gospel samples and many a Moby-licensed T.V. ad. Unfortunately, the commercial success of Play seems to have curbed Moby’s sense of adventure, for 18 reverses previous trends by sticking too closely to the Play blueprint (in fact, several critics have snidely christened it Re-Play), albeit with less memorable songs overall. There are differences, as 18 is mellower and “more mature,” but Moby similarly mixes together many different styles, some of which work and some of which don’t. The album’s first single, “We Are All Made Of Stars,” certainly does work. A great dreamy rocker that’ll have you humming David Bowie’s “Heroes” in no time, the song is unlike any of the others here. “In This World” and “One Of These Mornings” both set unutterably sad and lonely soul diva vocals to soothing synthesizer-based music, but fine though these songs are, they sound less fresh coming after similar musical endeavors on Play such as “Porcelain” and “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?”. Other highlights include the warmly soulful “In My Heart,” the gorgeous, soaring “Signs Of Love” (arguably featuring Moby’s best lead vocal to date), the relatively rocking and dramatic “Extreme Ways” (well-known due to its use in the Bourne films, and indeed it has a cinematic quality that works very well in such a setting) and the title track, which is another in a long line of pretty ambient instrumentals. Other tracks don’t fare as well, however; in particular, “Jam For The Ladies,” an annoying rap song starring Angie Stone and MC Lyte, is an awful misfire. Also, much of the material here would qualify as mere mood (i.e. background) music, and had Moby named the album 12 - as in a concise 12 songs instead of a meandering 18 - it would’ve been far more effective. Fortunately, 18 provides many a warmly inviting and graceful reminder of Moby’s melodic gifts, and it has several stellar songs that will likely qualify for my eventual “best of Moby” playlist.
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