With 'Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt' Moby Captures a Mood Utterly Appropriate for 2018
Moby creates a despondent calm in advance of the determined storm. It is the best thing Moby has done in a long time.
Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt
Little Idiot / Mute
2 March 2018
Moby is in this, just like the rest of us, and he's dealing with it, an awful lot like the rest of us.
When Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, it felt like a call to action. His base was energized, sure, but his opposition -- at least, following the initial shock -- was arguably more so. There were marches; there were movements; there were memes. There were so many memes. All of it felt something like a revolution; those opposed to the incoming administration dubbed themselves the "resistance", and there was a clear sense of purpose running through those who participated. It has been nearly a year and a half since that fateful election, and the resistance is still resisting, Mueller is still investigating, cabinet members and white house staff have either quit or been fired for a multitude of reasons, yet there is a new feeling that has crept in: despair. Despite almost daily headlines, big breaks, and ridiculous gaffes, Trump is still our president. It is discouraging to watch someone so apparently inept also be so utterly bulletproof, and yet here we are.
Moby is coming off two albums with the "Void Pacific Choir", which essentially became his way of making big, loud, fast, synth-punk songs that were immediate reactions to the consumerism, the factioning, the ugliness of the world around him. The Void Pacific Choir made songs that spoke to those ready to take on the world, those ready to make a difference. If the Void Pacific Choir created soundtracks for activism, however, Moby's first album credit as a solo artist since 2013's Innocents is the soundtrack for the quiet despair of settling into this new version of the world, this new vision for America. It's a natural reaction to the apparent inability to change what's wrong in the world; it's the largely silenced reaction to the rage that greets any attempt at objective observation. Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt is the natural reaction to watching what you thought was your world, your country, your community, crumbling around you.
If all of this sounds a bit overwrought, well, that's the point. Moby's going for a mood here, and he achieves that mood rather brilliantly.
First single "Like a Motherless Child" is a fine example of what Moby is onto here. For one, he makes the wise decision not to be the one singing "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child", the spiritual that the song is based around, instead leaving the duties to the plaintive voice of Raquel Rodriguez. Moby speaks a stream-of-consciousness tale circling confusion and sorrow, the mid-tempo beat keeps everything moving, and the listener gets pulled into a quiet, sad world of quiet, sad people. Most of the songs do this -- they don't yell or beg for you to listen, they worm their way into your head slowly, planting seeds in you and waiting for you to see what grows.
Opener "Mere Anarchy" is another one of the most effective at this method. It's thick and lush, it's melodic, and Moby's gently sung whispers actually create something like a memorable melody, which he tends to avoid when he opens his mouth. "The Ceremony of Innocence" builds its mood out of a mournful piano line. "The Last of Goodbyes" punctuates its wistful instrumental with some Enya-esque multitracked vocals.
For all the album's strengths, though -- and yes, allusions to Enya are strengths in this context -- nothing else even comes close to the sublime beauty of closer "A Dark Cloud Is Coming", which would be something like a floatier version of an old Massive Attack tune if it didn't have Apollo Jane grounding it so effectively. Jane's low alto is the perfect vehicle for the confrontational bent of the lyric; after repeating the title a few times, she segues into "come for me now," less an invitation than it is a dare. It is slow, it is patient, and it is gorgeous. Amidst the despair, there still exists the energy for a fight.
Your mileage may vary, of course; these many mid-tempo songs in the same place can slowly turn from a warm blanket into a test of endurance, and the hazy, gauzy production of it can grate a bit -- it's as if all the high-end and low-end was sapped from the mix, and reverb was added in its place. Still, there's an extremely high degree of difficulty involved in turning despair and hopelessness into something engaging rather than a slow, boring, uninteresting dirge of an album, and Moby mostly succeeds. Moby captures a mood that is utterly appropriate for early 2018, a mood for late winter, a mood for, say, the near-hopeless first half of The Handmaid's Tale. It is the despondent calm in advance of the determined storm. It is the best thing Moby has done in a long time.