[2 October 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Moby has made it too easy to form an opinion about his music.
Like his two previous albums, Wait for Me and Destroyed, the famed New York DJ/producer has made another album to show off his subtle side. Destroyed was the late-night soundtrack to urban loneliness, and Wait for Me was allegedly inspired by a speech given by David Lynch at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts on the subject of creating art for art’s sake. Now we arrive at Innocents, an album that compresses the dynamics and tempos once again so that we can enjoy a handful of vocal cameos among the instrumentals. Slower, more ponderous music is supposed to “grow on you”, percolating into your brain over many listens. From the start, your opinion of Innocents will come to you all too quickly. Subsequent listens are not likely to change that opinion, whatever it may be. This isn’t music that grows on you—it drills itself into your head. The wash-soak-rinse-repeat cycle that is 21st century Moby music makes Innocents one of the man’s most mind-numbing albums since, well, Wait for Me. BAFTA speech be damned, that one just sounded like his rent check was late.
Innocents will end up standing out in Moby’s discography for two rather technical reasons. Firstly, the roster of special guests artists is, relatively speaking, diverse. Wayne Coyne and Mark Lanegan are not usual suspects. Secondly, Moby has chosen to work with an outside producer in Mark ‘Spike’ Stent, a man whose résumé reads like a voting ballot for the Grammys.
Despite these characteristics, it still sounds like so many other Moby albums. And by that, I mean the synth pad presets softly juggle the usual chords around and around while samples get the hell sampled out of them. Meanwhile, the lyrics would never be seriously considered as the writings of an artist approaching fifty years of age. Platitudes are vaguely approached, but never established. “This is how, how we tried / This is where, where it died / This is how, how we cried / Like the dogs left outside,” as a chorus, doesn’t exude any kind of confidence in any subject matter. Having it sung by Moby himself lessens its reasons for hanging around for over nine minutes at the end of the album. Had it not been for “The Dogs”, Ex-Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan would have had the last word on Innocents with “The Lonely Night”. The lyrics are an improvement, possibly because Moby had Lanegan’s Waitsian gravel in mind when he wrote them: “Thought I saw Jesus come down / Dressed like a soldier / I used to cry like a clown / And now I’m older,” he sings. Cold Specks, aka Al Spx, gets two turns at the mic, sounding like so many other female vocalist contributors to the tracks of Moby past. Points are docked from “A Case for Shame” for the opening lines “Cut off your nose / To spite your face.” Inyang Bassey’s gospel-lite additions to “Don’t Love Me” might as well be one of those samples from Play.
If only the rest of the album could have taken a clue from the instrumental track “Saints”. At last, here’s a song where Moby sounds like he might become engaged with an uncompromising muse. As the rhythm tracks roll forward, more and more components are added to the sound. Yet a boiling point is avoided. This can be seen as good old fashioned thinking-outside-of-the-box restraint. Or did Moby chicken out? The question is moot because Moby never explores this kind of thing again.
Innocents is placing bets on the second single, “The Perfect Life” (“A Case for Shame” was released in July). This is Moby’s vocal duet with Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, so you just know that it’s going to be played up to be the psychedelic freak-out. Six minutes, three chords, a chorus that shoots for the “Hey Jude” moon, and enough window dressing to obfuscate an impish guitar solo are among its qualifications. The chorus, by the way, is “Oh, we close our eyes / The perfect life, life / Is all we need.” Less pop euphoria, more time in the dentist chair under the drill.
No matter what changes Moby’s attempts to apply to his sound, his musical identity seems too deeply entrenched in the ways that Innocents demonstrates for it to truly absorb anything new. “Wake up, wake up, wake up / We’re almost home,” sings Damien Jurado on “Almost Home”. And it’s funny because, between Jurado’s wispy voice and Moby’s musical air mattress, the listener will be out like a light.