Moby transcends on new album

by Peter Jenks | 5/21/02 5:00am

When Moby released "Play" in 1999, he jumped into the music world, turning heads with his innovative mix of techno-pop, rock and rap. Moby's newest release, "18," is an ethereal flashback to his last album. While his overall sound is quite similar, Moby has released an album that is more uniform and musically complex. He achieves this sound primarily by adding more strings and slightly toning down the heavy techno rhythm for which his songs are famous.

His new sound is most clearly displayed in the opening track, "We Are All Made of Stars." While the song opens with a complex beat, it eventually gives way to a layered interplay of strings and synthesized harmonies over which Moby sings, "People they come together, people they fall apart, no-one can stop us now, we are all made of stars."

"Stars" is one of the best songs on the album. In spite of its rather enigmatic title and lyrics, the song makes the listener want to get up and dance. Quite a few other songs show Moby's subtle transition: "Great Escape," "Fireworks," the beautiful "Signs of Love" and "Harbour" (with Sinad O'Connor on vocals). Yet even those tracks that do not have violin or guitar choruses add texture to the theoretically simple album.

Another musical device that Moby has carried over and extended since "Play" is use of the piano. "18" uses piano as much as if not more than "Play," and in many ways it uses piano more eloquently. The tracks "In This World," "Sunday (The Day Before my Birthday)" and "Sleep Alone," use piano beautifully as the primary musically-thematic instrument tying the melody to the rhythm. "In My Heart" and the eponymous instrumental "18" feature piano not simply as a background instrument but also as one that serves as the melodic foundation around which the song is built.

A few songs on the album, while good on their own, are a bit out of place. Most misplaced is "Jam for the Ladies," a rap song featuring MC Lyte. In spite of its catchiness and noble end of praising female hip-hop artists, the song is odd in an album that, apart from this one effort, follows a distinct theme and mood.

Moby also samples a lot of gospel, just as he did on "Play." But there seems to be a subtler trend. Moby makes a number of allusions to his last album in "18." "In this World" is a sequel to "Natural Blues" from "Play." The next song on the album, "In My Heart," is a response to his 1999 release "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad." In response to the question that the title of the latter poses, "In My Heart" begs, "be in my heart, oh Lord." Overall, the sampling of gospel tends to give his music a sort of spiritual significance.

This is in fact one of the most notable dimensions of the album -- spirituality. Moby describes himself in the liner notes, "i'm a vegan and i love christ and dance music" (Moby tends to forgo the formality of capitalization). His spirituality can be seen in a number of places on the album. Even those songs that don't sample gospel music seem explicitly spiritual and convey importance.

From "We are All Made of Stars" on down, Moby writes and chooses lyrics that transcend their immediate meaning. He writes musical poetry that only has meaning in the context of the song in which it is placed.

The album also has a feeling of being lost for a while and gaining perspective, a state Moby admits he has been in for the last decade. "Extreme Ways" is a song about loss, about being beyond hope, "Extreme places I had gone/But never seen any light." In "Harbour" he speaks about the same state, only with added perspective -- "The roof seems so inviting/A vantage point is gained/To watch the children fighting." The final song of the album, "I'm Not Worried at All" provides some wise final words: "All round me burdens/Seem to fall/I'm not worried at all."

"18" is a complete album. All 18 tracks are musically and (when applicable) lyrically sound. In his liner notes, Moby writes, "it's my humble opinion that other people's lives might be better for listening to what I've created." Whether or not that will actually be the case, we will never really know. But listening to the album, one is assured of Moby's sincerity. Oh, and one more thing -- Moby still knows how to make you dance.

CD courtesy of the Dartmouth Bookstore.