Monday, November 12, 2018

Album Review: Moby - Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt (2018)

A few years back, I couldn’t have cared less if I never heard another Moby album, ever. The uber producer’s 1999 effort, Play, pretty much destroyed any ongoing interest I had in the artist. Thanks mainly to the ridiculous level of exposure it received. For a few years around the turn of the millennium, Play was everywhere, and I became heartily sick of hearing it, or snippets of it even, especially as the musical backdrop for copious amounts of corporate advertising (in particular, see ‘Porcelain’). 

I’d been a fan of Moby’s early Nineties output, with club bangers like ‘Go’ and ‘Move’ being my introduction to his work. But Play took Moby into another stratosphere entirely with its crossover mix of ambient pop and cod-blues. And since Play, I’ve somehow managed to avoid everything else Moby has subsequently released. Until a few months back, that is, when in a moment of apparent weakness, I found myself downloading a gratis copy of his new album, Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt.

Of all the spontaneous decisions I’ve made in 2018 - mostly questionable ones - that has been one of my better choices, because Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt turned out to be a genuine revelation. It’s a long way removed from Play, and almost 20 years on, I can’t help but wonder what I might have missed in the interim. After all, Play was studio album number five, while Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt checks in as album number 15. That’s a whole lot of potential artistic development, right there. I’m also aware that post-Play albums like 18 (2002), and Hotel (2005), were massive sellers, so they can’t really have been all that bad. But only if you embrace the notion that units sold is an accurate representation of the quality on offer, which isn’t always a straightforward given. 

It could be that I just needed a lengthy break from Moby in order to appreciate his work again. Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt has made my return far more painless than I initially thought it might be. 

The album is refreshing in ways I never expected it would be: fragile, melancholic, haunting, and dripping with the existential angst we’re all bound to experience at some point along this journey. It’s jammed full of self-deprecation and insecurity. It feels a bit personal, like we’re privy to a “confession” in places … particularly when confronted by Moby’s own voice, be it spoken word or singing, as opposed to the multitude of guest vocalists who also feature (see Mindy Jones, Apollo Jane, Julie Mintz, plus others). 

It examines the state of the world through the eyes/voice of a middle-aged man who really isn’t all that happy with what he’s seeing in 2018 (or more accurately, 2016 and 2017 when the album was conceived). But there’s also some acceptance there. A resignation that we’ve little choice but to live with, and absorb or consume, the fear and disillusionment our infinite information/communication networks lumber us with every minute of every day. 

So, the lyrics are designed to provoke and challenge, but they’re cushioned, for the most part, by an almost unfashionable electronica backdrop, something of a throwback to trip hop’s best days. Moby’s own production is superb - it was recorded at home - and I think the word “lush” probably best describes the wider feel of the album, which clocks in at just under an hour. 

Highlights: ‘Mere Anarchy’, ‘Welcome To Hard Times’, ‘The Middle Is Gone’, and saving the best until last, ‘A Dark Cloud Is Coming’. 

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