Release Date: Sep 30, 2013
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Club/Dance
Moby is the Woody Allen of musicians; over the last two decades he has, without fail, delivered a new album every one-to-three years. As it’s been two years, we cannot be surprised by the arrival of Innocents or by its content, remarkable as the latter is. Here, Richard Hall returns to the sounds and song structures that he’s best known for, and that we first heard on 1999’s bazillion-selling Play.
Richard Melville Hall sprang to fame off the back of one of the most successful albums of all-time, 1999’s Play. With each and every track being licensed for commercial use, Moby’s work was suddenly everywhere, swamping the movies, television programmes and advertisements with its lush cinematic soundscapes. But such highs came at a price: 18 was the 2002 follow-up which, although achieving huge success at over five million worldwide sales, this fared only half as well as its predecessor and marked the beginning of the decline.
From the first swell of warm, gliding synth, Innocents is unmistakably a Moby record. The spacious soundscapes and disjointed, house-lite percussion could have been lifted from his coffee-table hit Play - it seems we’re going to be partying like it’s 1999 again. But, maybe in a bid to avoid the overexposure that slightly undermined Play's brilliance (though being the first album in history to have every single song licenced for commercial use didn’t help), Innocents is a pointedly less radio-friendly affair.
Innocents is in line with Wait for Me (2009) and Destroyed (2011), Moby's most intimate and isolated albums. Following a move from New York to Los Angeles, he recorded almost all the instrumentation by himself. He made a considerable change by seeking vocals from an extended cast of relatively known singers -- including Mark Lanegan, the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne, Cold Specks, Skylar Grey, and Damien Jurado -- rather than a handful of locals, and he had Mark "Spike" Stent mix it all.
In retrospect, it was Play that both made and broke Moby. Pre-1999, he was the epitome of New York cool (with, admittedly, the lack of record sales that represented), sampling the Twin Peaks soundtrack, sprinkling his own form of remix gold-dust over the likes of Michael Jackson and Pet Shop Boys, and becoming unlikely touring buddies with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Soundgarden. Play, of course, made Richard Melville Hall a household name, but at a cost.
Moby's work since 1999's Play has tended to be singer-songwriter somnambulant, but Innocents suggests a way past it: working with others. It's still a Moby album – patient tempos, frosted with strings and comfortably melancholy melodies. But working with his first outside producer, Mark "Spike" Stent (Gaga, Beyoncé, Massive Attack), has made him knuckle down; the writing is sharper than on 2009's sketchy Wait for Me or 2011's overblown Destroyed.
Whatever side of the fence you fall on regarding Moby at his most commercial peak, he's always had a deft touch when handling vocals. Therefore, what's a shrewder move than revisiting the catchy, beat-driven electronic pop of your best-selling album, with a host of credible vocalists who hold various degrees of contemporary relevance? After the instrumental intro, replete with familiar Moby beats and those epic string washes we all know so well, the album starts off strong with "A Case For Shame," one of the standout tracks, and one of two featuring Canada's Cold Specks. While the album starts off on a promising foot, if you look past the vocal performances, the instrumentation wears thin quickly, much like a Hollywood blockbuster that blew its entire budget on special effects.
There isn’t a happier musician out there than Moby. The blockbuster DJ, who might be the only true household name in EDM, will be the first to tell you he has “The Perfect Life”. This time around, however, he’s celebrating it alongside longtime friends like Wayne Coyne, Inyang Bassey, and Mark Lanegan, in addition to new faces like Cold Specks, Skylar Grey, and Damien Jurado.
In the build-up to his 11th album, Moby blogged about loving James Blake and The Knife. He followed it up with another post calling for “S&M gymnasts” to get in touch to appear in ‘The Perfect Life’ video with Wayne Coyne. Promising. Perhaps ‘Innocents’ would be the moment the 48-year-old New Yorker cast aside the wishy-washy techno he’s been peddling since 1999’s ‘Play’? No.
Moby has made it too easy to form an opinion about his music. Like his two previous albums, Wait for Me and Destroyed, the famed New York DJ/producer has made another album to show off his subtle side. Destroyed was the late-night soundtrack to urban loneliness, and Wait for Me was allegedly inspired by a speech given by David Lynch at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts on the subject of creating art for art’s sake.
Like the notoriously single-minded captain conceived by his famed literary forebear, Moby has spent the past fourteen years chasing the success of the great white whale known as Play, his game-changing 1999 release that effortlessly merged the genres of electronica, soul and pop into a singular, commercially-verdant masterstroke. That record would not only score a platinum certification, but all eighteen of its tracks eventually earned licensing deals for television, movies and commercials – a first in modern music. And yet in the weeks leading up to the release of Moby’s eleventh full-length studio outing, the artist has identified Innocents as the album that he has waited his entire life to write - a curious, if not outrageous statement from a man who has enjoyed a career with not one but two golden ages.
Still such a sensitive fellow after all these years, the M man evolves once again from gloomy pageantry for imaginary movies to goth-pop with more guest stars than your average hip-hop release- maybe not just because he loves collaborating but also because his own vocals aren’t too strong. He’s always been attracted to divas since his dance days but now he’s roped in Flaming Lips Wayne Coyne and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age) on board too, who provide the highlights here, mostly because of the gospellish choir accompanying the former and the latter’s reliably doomy baritone. Otherwise, there’s nothing awful here but there’s nothing outstanding either to shake things up or shift the glum mood much, which might be the point but there’s only so much mileage you can get out of being in the dumps- as Tom Waits (who may yet collaborate with the M man) could tell him.