I’m going to say before I start that I have a strange history with this album. I remember my father buying it on release. He had these huge Bluetooth headphones (when they were all the rage, remember?) and he’d lie on the sofa with this on full blast, so we could hear it echoing tinnily out of the ‘phones. As a ten year old child, I thought the whole idea of Moby was laughable. He was this old, bald guy who made weird music that only dads listened to.
When Alex said I had to listen to this for review, I felt dread. Then I thought, ‘huh, maybe, as an adult, I’ll get something different from this album’. I tried to rid my head of any negative thoughts I might have about it and give it a go.
It, uh… it didn’t end well.
A quick Wikipedia search tells me that this is Moby’s fifth album – at which point I’m baffled; it doesn’t feel like an album written by someone who has that much back catalogue. The fact that it’s the biggest selling electronica album of all time doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. If you had ears circa 2000, you’d have heard most of this album in every advert, documentary and television fill available. I’m not sure if this is the reason I’m largely turned off by huge swathes of the album – commercial overload – because it is the first album ever to have every track licensed in television, adverts and movies.
Okay, okay, I’m procrastinating here. Honestly? I can sum this album up in a few sentences.
Moby has, by this point, a clear understanding of what his genre is, which I clearly don’t, because I hear ‘electronica’ and I generally throw up a little in my mouth. There is a level of skill involved in this album that I won’t deny. There is some fine layering and interesting sound manipulation, and the way the album is put together as a whole is incredibly precise and fine-tuned.
And yet, partially, that’s why I can’t listen to it.
It’s music-by-numbers. It’s music for mathematicians. It’s algorithms and binary.
Moby takes a beat. Then he takes a line of vocals. Then some piano. Then another synth sound. He layers them ad nauseum. Maybe there’s some gospel clapping. Maybe there’s a breakdown. Either way, that’s the whole album. That’s it. There’s hardly any deviation from that norm. There’s no real soul here, and if it is, it’s so repetitive and jarring that it feels weird, nestled in between the odd AI-style heartbeat sounds and Ministry of Sound piano.
When I put the album on, I was surprised by how much I was jamming to the first track, Honey. It has power and punch, driven by the really sprightly piano chords and the tight rhythm, and the cool vocals. I thought, perhaps, I’d been wrong the whole time about Moby. Find My Baby, too, has a grimy, early-2000s HMV sound to it, that reminds me of browsing for CDs (actual physical CDs!) and not having to grimace at the music choice in the shop.
Porcelain is the other side of Moby, away from the driving rhythms and into the more dreamlike state. It has some great synth, and haunting piano over the top. Again, here, I was still enjoying the album, despite my initial knee-jerk. Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad had me tapping my foot.
But herein lies the problem. I can listen to each track in isolation, maybe for about a minute. After a minute, you’ve heard pretty much every surprise the track has in store, because each track is just so damn circular. Even some of the vocalists sound identical. Beyond Why Does My Heart, the slower tracks are asinine. They’re not even background music, because if I was listening to them in the background, I’d probably sub-consciously scratch my eyes out. There’s something grating about them that is hard to put into words.
Bodyrock has potential, almost Fatboy Slim in style, but again, it isn’t interesting beyond the first minute. I couldn’t dance to it in any kind of club for any extended period in time.
This album is six tracks too long. I had to turn it off after Down Slow on my first listen because I was gritting my teeth so hard it hurt. When I came back to it, I was just as irritated as I had been previously.
Is This Album For You?
Here’s the deal: I’m sure for many people, this album is relaxing. I’m sure they listen to it when they do yoga or something and it helps them find their chi or whatever. It has a lot of qualities that make it great background music. If you’re a dad who wants to fall asleep on the sofa in your huge Bluetooth headphones because you have three daughters under 11, then enjoy your nap. If you like your music to have some heart to it, look elsewhere. If you don’t mind your music to sound like it was made by robots who really believe in chakras, then yeah, you’ll like Moby. For me, it’s just too damn boring.
Performance: is there any performance? I mean, he puts it in a computer and pushes buttons, right? EDIT: Okay – I’m going with a 6/10. It performs as pieces of music admirably.