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.