Thursday, May 03, 2018

Moby, "18", "Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt"

We know that Moby recorded "Play" at his professional and personal nadir, as a self-professed has-been who was planning to get out of the music industry.  "Play" was a pop sensation, moving ten million units and landing in inescapably heavy rotation around the world for three years.  The fact that the album was a bit of a downer (singles included) and contained a few decidedly non-pop instrumental mood pieces didn't affect its monstrous sales numbers or cultural cache. 

Following up a melancholy hit album with an even more melancholy did album can happen.  REM did it with "Automatic for the People", but 1992 and the far more poptimistic 2002 were very different eras.  "18" is a very good album that sticks to the same formula as "Play" -- old blues samples laid over dance beats, piano-field dance-lite pop, and moody downtempo pieces -- but the carbon copy never sells as well as the original, and nobody could have expected that Moby would be a long term A-list pop star.  "Play" was a short lived phenomenon that couldn't be repeated, and on "18", Moby sounds none too thrilled at facing up to the task of trying to recreate the magic.  There are some fantastic tracks here ("We Are All Made of Stars" is an all-time classic) but the sense of nothing-to-lose *fun* that imbibed "Play" tracks like "Honey" and "Bodyrock" is gone.  It's loneliness piled on top of loneliness.  As a pop album with sky-high expectations, it's a miss.  Standing on its own, it's a solid listen and an honest portrait of the artist as an insecure pop star, with a handful of career highlights.

Sixteen years later, Moby clearly has nothing to prove to anyone.  His last few albums were written essentially for his own personal satisfaction because very few people are paying attention anyway.  "Everything Was Beautiful ..." borrows heavily from 90's Portishead and there's not a cheery moment to be found, especially not among song titles like "The Sorrow Tree", "A Dark Cloud is Coming", and "Welcome to Hard Times".  Moby's albums have always been pessimistic about the times we live in ever since the rave days.  Nonetheless, it's an easy listen with many serenely beautiful moments and a few dramatic choruses.   If that's where Moby's head is at, then more power to him.   

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