Moby recently shared a stage with Lou Reed at a tribute concert to the veteran rock musician at SXSW in Austin. Later that night he ignited a warehouse party with familiar commercial dance tracks reworked and regenerated. Is this a return to favor for the man whose melodic, gospel-infused dance rock has been alternately scorned and grudgingly acknowledged over the past 10 to 15 years?
Last Night, Moby’s sixth studio album and fourth since 1999’s Play, would certainly make that claim. Now, rather than attempting again to recreate that album’s ambient-inflected pop dance, he has a narrower focus: dancefloor and disco. One of the most successful elements of Play was its willingness to slow down the tempi of house and big beat music and reveal the beauty that could exist in slower, more timeless dance music. But on Last Night, Moby won’t let the slower-tempo songs just be. Instead, he coats “Alice” with a hyperkinetic rap. He places the slight-delayed string sound of “Porcelain” over bouncy electro synths, on “257.zero”. And the gospel and strings aesthetic pervades “Live for Tomorrow”, which sounds a little like a bad remix of an easy-listening pop song.
If it’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint a specific Moby ‘style’, it’s because he’s often remarkably chameleon-like. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because over the course of his career the artist has at one time or another prefigured popular opinion for a hot minute or two. But here, Moby’s a step behind. See, new disco’s being done much more excitingly by new groups like Hercules & Love Affair. And the DFA guys even showed how fresh original disco-era tracks could sound on their Fabriclive 36 album from last year.
Moby broadcasts his intentions here early. “Ooh Yeah”, the opening track, features a cut-off string lick and a vocordered female vocal that sings, “Everyone’s asking disco time / Like you’re flying through the night on a disco ride… it’s so much fun.” Elsewhere, as on “I Love to Move in Here”, the scratching and self-proclaimed old-school vibe are unconvincing. The inclusion of the occasional rap, as on the single “Alice”, which sounds something like an update of “Bodyrock”, is a sign of weakness. High-profile dance acts such as Groove Armada have used the form in recent years as a kind of distraction from what would seem an otherwise staid sonic landscape.
Past Moby efforts, though starting strongly enough, have seemed to run out of steam early, degenerating into similar-sounding beats, shorter song lengths and more random ideas. Here, the artist takes his sound to a darker, more club-oriented place, an upturn that gives meat to the album’s middle third, before shattering the drive forward with a series of more ambient efforts. The beats alternately bring LCD Soundsystem and Timbaland to mind, but without either’s crackle.
Last Night ends with the title track, a sedate lament with heartfelt vocals and a spacey, echoing construction of synths. The song’s too slow — its jazzy chord progression doesn’t hold our attention. And so we come to the end of another Moby album. And, as usual, though momentarily incited to remember why we liked him, we’re disappointed again.