Proof that Natural Blues, sweaty funk, and tender balladry can go together
This album makes you feel sad that Moby only did a few shows to promote last year's Innocents album. Where some live albums come with the depressing stamp of contractual obligation, this album is a pure treat from start to finish. Some rough edges have been left in, some jokes don't always hit the mark, but there is a true sense that Moby and his band are doing this really and truly for the love of it. The basslines thump, the adrenalin pumps and pounds its way right through you, as it surely must have for the original audience and the whole set seems to gel beautiful as one whole musical piece. This is because Moby, as a seasoned live performer, knows that the best concerts take the audience on a journey of emotions, from anticipation to joy, to melancholy, to sadness and back again, with plenty of pit stops for a dosage of wry humour along the way.
There are songs, such as “Bodyrock”, designed to make one jump around the stage (which Moby frequently does, to both exciting and alarming effect during his live performances), electrified here short sharp stabbing bursts of electric guitar, to get you high on your own endorphins. There are also moments of blessed relief, to bring you back down, such as “A Case for Shame”, which gently caress your ears with snare drum and acoustic guitar, guiding and welcoming you back into your own aural comfort zone.
Almost Home, in taking this approach, has preserved the ebb and flow of a truly great concert. Put this on and you will immediately be transported to the venue, minus the smell of sweat and beer that seems to permeate these places. The sounds of audience, vocalist, and musician alike are mixed seamlessly into one sonic whole, yet each really gets the chance to shine. This is a package to really lose yourself in. The backing vocalists gel superbly with Moby and guests, in the case of the main man, they push him and make him earn his place without ever showing him up, no mean feat, given that Moby's voice can occasionally be a little weak, such as on “Slipping Away” and the rather unnecessary acoustic reprise of “The Perfect Life”, which closes the album. No matter how Moby chooses to dress up this song, it's a meandering and perfunctory slice of mid '70s Rolling Stones boogie, which should be dropped from his setlist asap.
Moby counterbalances his own talents with that of a very tight band. Everyone truly shines, particularly the drummer who subtly underpins the set with snare and cymbal alike subtly snaking around the edges of songs such as “Don't Love Me” and “Tell Me” on Disc One, before exploding into exuberant life during “We Are All Made of Stars” and “Southside” on Disc Two. The effect here is like standing in the street and watching a statue suddenly jump down from its' podium and start breakdancing. The guitarists obviously know a good riff when they hear one but – crucially – never make the mistake of letting any overstay their welcome and Moby proves himself both a warm presence and true showman.
He has plenty of entertaining between-song banter, whether it be offering thanks to those there with him, making pointed jokes and criticism of America's governments both past and present, or even simply asking the audience (both present and online viewers) if they are enjoying themselves. The listener/viewer is made to feel he is speaking to them directly. Many of today's rock frontmen could learn much from watching him/hearing him do his thing. This is because Moby has taken to heart the adage that the best performers, regardless of genre or artistic field, perform to and never at their audience. The music here has something which every single one of its listeners can relate to; a soulful harmony here, a well-timed melodic note in the midst of a riff there. Moby knows that his audience are listening to hear their lives spoken about and to be challenged about why they have their own opinions, yet manages to sidestep the trap of speaking down to them.
Innocents translates well to the live arena, “The Perfect Life” and “Everything That Rises” in particular being given excellent renditions. Everything that was good about the songs when in album form is enhanced here through sympathetic performances by musicians who obviously care about them as much as Moby does. Crucially too, Moby also carries the album's air of joyful melancholia over very well, with gently wailing vocals which let you know he's really pouring himself into each song. Oldies such as “Natural Blues”, “Honey”, “Slipping Away”, and “Extreme Ways” are also given very welcome makeovers. Who knew, for instance, that “Honey” was really a stomping '70s disco anthem or that “Slipping Away” could be a very tender acoustic ballad? And yes, we know that “Extreme Ways” has been Bourne again but who would have guessed that its real genesis lay in great '70s action movies such as Shaft and The French Connection?
Guests such as Greg Dulli blend very well into this sonic mix and also add their own distinctive tangs to songs such as “The Lonely Night”, Dulli's warm drawl-cum-croon being beautifully offset by a sweeping and sympathetic synth backdrop, which makes listening to the song akin to drifting along contentedly in a warm ocean somewhere on a blissfully hot summer's night. In lesser hands, this might have been a cynical celebrity-filled love in; here, it is a master class in how to use the talents of several different artists to the full, without anyone ever seeing the joins. To sum up then, Almost Home is both a great career summation and a perfect introduction to Moby's work. Now let's just hope he decides to do more than just the three or four select shows in honour of his next album.