Release Date: May 17, 2011
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Electronic, Ambient, Downtempo, Ambient Techno
It wouldn't be unfair to argue that Moby has kind of been treading water since 1999's techno-blues opus, Play. That said, the guy's not a bad water-treader. Destroyed follows the understated elegance of 2009's Wait for Me even deeper into Ambient land; written on tour during sleepless nights in hotel rooms around the world, songs like the gracefully oozing synth reverie "The Broken Places" and the elegiac Eno rip-off "The Day" luxuriate in pillowy isolation.
My first encounter with Moby, as I imagine was the case for many people, was in 1999 when “Southside” from his album Play received widespread radio coverage, thanks in no small amount to Gwen Stefani’s featured role. I remember feeling a range of emotions about the song, beginning with ambivalence, peaking at pure hatred due to its total pervasiveness, and eventually sliding into the realm of fondness some years later. However, the damage was done.
Inspired by the isolation that comes from "being the only person awake (or alive) in an empty city" in the middle of the night, Destroyed is not too much of a departure from Wait for Me, Moby’s previous studio album. Apart from being more electronic-oriented -- there’s significantly less guitar and more prominent throbbing pulse -- the approach and effect are largely the same. Moby shares vocal duties with a handful of women whose performances are spooky and sampled-sounding ("Lie Down in Darkness"), serenely insular ("The Low Hum"), and desperate but resolute ("The Right Thing").
Moby's 10th studio album is released alongside a £25 book of his own photos, in effect making the songs a soundtrack to the book. Music and pictures alike aim to capture the disjointedness of life on tour, which for Moby means snapshots of airport corridors and 71 minutes of lonely-as-a-cloud electro-wafting. Bearing in mind that music about touring is of more interest to the artist than to listeners, it's still easy to appreciate swathes of Destroyed.
I frequently get Moby confused with the monk character played by Hugh Jackman in Aronofsky’s The Fountain. They both have shaved heads, they both hug trees, they both seem to live in bubbles. There is something drippy and artlessly strange about both of them. What is certain is that Moby would make a good space monk.
What is there left to say about Richard Melville Hall that hasn't already been said? Every imaginable insult relating to his prolific advert sound-tracking has already been thrown in his direction, and thanks to his tendency to over-share in interviews, we know far more about his personal life than is comfortable. With his brand of tasteful electronica getting quite stale over the years, there's not much that can be said about his music either. But early word for album number ten, Destroyed, suggested that the latter was about to change.
For a while, Moby was trying to escape the sound he made ubiquitous when he never said no to the licensing of any of Play‘s admittedly brilliant 18 tracks. Whether trying on tidy synth pop or eschewing his melodic sensibilities for the dance floor, it was clear that he had tired of his take on reflective, soulful, string-laden, sample-based music just as much as we had. He left that sound behind just long enough for its return to feel welcome when he released Wait for Me a couple years ago, and the humility that he somehow fused into that album was palpable.
Ten albums in, Moby considers himself Destroyed. Well, that’s not true. (That’s more or less an un-clever way to use a pun in this review.) No, Moby remains fine. He’s moved to Los Angeles, he’s surrounded himself with a castle in the Hollywood Hills, and he’s touring the globe with not only his music, but his collection of photos.
What do people want from Moby? It's a question worth asking not just because of the lukewarm reputation he carries among many music fans but because Moby himself has spent so much time trying to answer it. The answer appears to be, resoundingly, "not what you've been giving us," and I'll wager that it's not the "innovative microsite" or photo book that arrive concurrent to his latest album, Destroyed. Recorded as he toured, late at night and lonely, the record finds Moby sober and living in Los Angeles (nice digs).
Music has been really living up to what the title advertises lately: Bruno Mars’s “The Lazy Song” is an incredibly lazy piece of songwriting, Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory” approaches something close to cheesy magnificence without actually quite tumbling over into it, and Moby’s new album, Destroyed, well, ought to be. The little bald dude may have his fans, but his painfully earnest Teflon electronica tracks have always seemed like the dance-music equivalent of Christian hip-hop to me, aesthetically superfluous and watered-down. He comes off like an inverse Chicken Little, insisting that the sky isn’t falling, so long as you hook into his placid groove—and agree with his liner notes.
Moby’s 10th album is among his most enduring endeavours yet. Iain Moffatt 2011 Something that BBC Four's recent tribute to the astonishing musical developments of 1991 has thrown into focus is that the rave generation was never built to last. Good thing nobody told them that, eh? If they had, we'd have been denied all kinds of Prodigy magic, modern clubbers wouldn't squeak with glee at the merest hint of a rejigged old-school classic, and we certainly wouldn't be sat here enjoying the 10th Moby album.