Moby: 18

Alison Wong



Label: V2
US Release Date: 2002-05-14
UK Release Date: 2002-05-13

18, the latest addition to Moby's oeuvre, was released last month after much anticipation. His previous album, Play (1999), is the catalyst responsible for catapulting the folically-challenged journal-writing vegan (who has been on the "music scene" for over a decade now) into mainstream popular music stardom status. This is not a criticism; Moby deserves all the praise and attention we care to lavish upon him for the music that is known collectively as Play. The album is truly a masterpiece consisting of an amalgamation of musical styles displaying a deep level of musicianship that is both rare and respectable. His experimental treatment of blues and gospel music sampled against synthesized/symphonic house music is an example of fusion at its best. By selecting different musical styles and allowing them to play out with each other without distortion ensures that their essence remains unaffected. Praise is also due to the strategic marketing that has led Play to an extended shelf-life, selling 10 million copies to date, with an ample share of exposure in mass media productions, ranging from luxury car commercials to Hollywood summer blockbuster movies.

Moving back to the present: Moby releases a new album.

The first track "We Are All Made of Stars" is something of a meiotic gem, a derivative play on Bowie's "Heroes" that leaves you holding your breath in anticipation of what will follow. The first sign of something unwelcomingly familiar comes all too soon in the next track, "In This World" -- it's another "lordy" (this time Lordy don't leave me) with synthesized-symphonic house music backup. As the tracks plod on it becomes more disturbing. They consist of the same ingredients used to make Play, only now they've mostly turned stale. It's not entirely indigestible, though. "Harbour", a collaborative effort made with Sinead O'Connor, is beautiful and ethereal, while the title track is powerfully hypnotic.

Since I have depicted 18 to be so similar to Play and since I have unashamedly praised and elevated the latter to an almost god-like status, why am I disappointed with this new album? The answer is simple: my expectations were not fulfilled. Moby's output thus far has held new surprises with the release of every album, admittedly some more pleasant than others, from I Like to Score (no comment) to Everything Is Wrong (a brash, underdeveloped rip off of punk and rave) to Animal Rights (punk/thrash metal-esque) to Play. These albums share the common trait that each one has an innovative and unique sound world, and since each successive album has seen a departure from the previous, the result is that each new sound world is exhilarating and raw.

It is apparent that 18 is effectively a microscopic view of some of the musical features that we liked so much in Play. This unfortunately results in a lack of cohesiveness, whereas Play is an exemplary "album". In a technological world where it is all too easy to go online and download that one hit song from that mediocre album, the name of which you can barely remember, Play sticks itself tightly together with the inclusion of energetic rhythmic tracks such as "Run On" -- tracks that are barely more than musical interludes . . . glue, if you like. The effect is playful, where tracks are just ideas flitting from one to the next, manipulating your perception of time, offering you a sample and leaving you wanting more. 18 is more of a collection of tracks, polished, perceptually static, and unconnected. The lack of any real innovation in this new album suggests that Moby may have reached a plateau. I only hope that he's taking a breather and not all played out.





PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.


Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.