When Moby’s Play was released in 1999, it was very much the work of a techno bluesman. After following his heart straight into the cutout bins with punk-rock covers and gorgeously out-of-place ambient tracks on 1996’s Animal Rights, Moby found himself without a deal or DJ gigs. So he put his melancholy into song as any DJ-cum-musician would: Sampled vocals, linear-party jams and borrowed bass bump, all arranged like one big gentle cheer-me-up after a good cry.
After selling 10 million copies of his little Sunday afternoon masterpiece, Moby, like Eminem, has a different set of issues this time out. Eminem talks about how empty MTV would be without him on his new single, while Moby just bemoans how empty his new celebrity-fueled world is on the deadpan, electro-poppy “We Are All Made Of Stars.”
On 18, Moby still prefers that wonderfully oblique feeling of sorrowful, heart-swelling cheer. He enlists Georgia goth girls Azure Ray to coo in natural fibers on “Great Escape,” he lets Freedom Bremmer get all achy-breaky on “At Least We Tried” and Sinead O’Connor gives “Harbour” its chilly emotional delivery.
It’s hard not to see Moby as some kind of poor little rich kid. He’s let the geek-turned-rock star side of himself have a fling with Natalie Portman, rubbed elbows with Hollywood and become techno’s first superstar. But now he’s gone back to his punk-rock roots to renounce the whole thing and stay grounded (and inspired) in good ol’ heartbroken dissatisfaction.
To Moby’s credit, 18 is bigger, its blues more wrenching, its melancholy that much more pronounced and its after-the-cry catharsis that much more satisfying. While he is not above repeating himself (“Jam for The Ladies” is Play’s “Bodyrock” with a higher-profile cameo courtesy of MC Lyte), he’s also not shy of outdoing himself, either.
E-mail Hobey Echlin at [email protected].