Monday, August 17, 2015
Moby -- 18
Uh...I want to make an onomatopoeia right here for something similar to "oh, boy," but not like, the enthusiastic "Oh, boy!" but the "Oh, boy" you say when you're at a family gathering and someone says something that's going to start on argument. Like a "here we go," "oh, boy." "Ooh, boy?" No, that sounds weirdly sexual. "Eww, boy?" No, that sounds gross. How about, "E-owe, boy?"
E-owe, boy. Here we go. I don't think many people have given Moby's 18 the amount of thought that I have.
I picked up 18 during the week of its May 2002 release, more than two years after having my life changed by Moby's previous album, Play. I was primed for a let down. I picked up the album on a completely spontaneous, completely random road trip with four people I barely knew. That three-day experience can't be put into words, though if I was forced to put it into one word, it would be Hypno-Bro. Perhaps even more randomly, two of the party members...er, road trip members (both friends of mine today) were also pretty big Moby fans, and had no problem throwing my new Moby CD onto their car SUV player. There's too much going into this review, though, so let's just do a track by track look at 18, which I didn't need to do with Play because Play is perfect, and dissecting perfect things to that degree isn't very helpful or productive.
1. We Are All Made of Stars -- Hmm...I don't really like this. It's like he's trying to be cool, uplifting, and deep, but the simple beat and cheesy guitar aren't cool. Then again, by the end, when the keyboard is soaring and higher in the mix, I'm singing along with Moby, so I guess it is what it is.
2. In This World (featuring Jennifer Price) -- Here we go (in the enthusiastic "Oh, Boy!" sense). Old-sounding gospel singing sample, piano, beat, and bass, with a more prominent keyboard presence as the song progresses. It's akin to the spirit of Play, and this early in the album, I'm looking for familiarity.
3. In My Heart (featuring The Shining Light Gospel Choir) -- But now this is too familiar. Another track of the exact same nature. "In My Heart" keeps the momentum well from "In This World" by basically cloning it.
4. Great Escape (featuring Azure Ray) -- And now for something completely different. This doesn't sound like Play at all, but this time, that's not a bad thing. Two female singers harmonizing over each other about trying to drown a guy so he can't escape over a weird, synthesized violin. Haunting, mournful, and beautiful. A definite highlight. Starts off the sad parade, though.
5. Signs of Love -- Though "We Are All Made of Stars" features Moby-singing, Moby-singing featuring "Signs of Love" feels far more like a "Moby-singing" song. Melancholy, lots of keyboard. "I fly so high, and fall so low," is a downer of a chorus.
6. One of These Mornings (featuring Dianne McCaulley) -- Now this is a rehash too far. Another soul-song-sampling-song with Moby's usual instrumental accompaniment that doesn't set itself apart from anything on Play or 18. Also a downer with its, "One of these mornings, it won't be very long, you will look for me, and I'll be gone" chorus.
7. Another Woman -- But here's how to do it differently. An infectious, dominant bassline and congas meet another old soul-sample, but this different instrumentation refreshes the formula. "You leave your home for days and days, and I know you got another woman somewhere around" continues the stream of depression.
8. Fireworks -- Lovely little instrumental, featuring a cool Rhodes-ish keyboard line interplay with a cool, rainfall imbued piano line. Cool changes throughout the song, as well. Further carves out a more specific identity for 18 among its early track Play clones...you really feel that somber blue of the album cover here.
9. Extreme Ways -- Now it's the Bourne films' theme song, but here it's an interesting oddity, with its anthemic opening sample, dancey beat. "Oh baby, oh baby, then it fell apart/oh baby, oh baby, like it always does," goes the chorus--further developing in 18 a definite lyrical theme.
10. Jam for the Ladies (featuring MC Lyte and Angie Stone) -- Here's the "Bodyrock" for this album, except this time with ladies. Still, the upbeat, bass-driven song is infectious, with good female-rapping and singing, and a catchy chorus that makes me wish I wasn't the only person to listen to this album more than two times...that way I could sing it with someone else.
11. Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday) -- One more downbeat song with a gospelish sample and the now expected, trademark, and rote Moby instrumentation. The only thing that sets this song apart from Play is how much of a downer it is. "Sunday was a bright day, yesterday. Dark cloud has come into the way." And...let's take a break from this to discuss the most important difference between Play and 18:
Yes, that horrendous day in which thousands were killed, that changed our culture forever...in my opinion for the worse. Play was released seven months before Y2K (a fun, fake disaster), during light and happy times, where our government conspiracies revolved mostly around aliens, and when seeing a plane flying through the sky invoked hope and escape and not anxiety. 18 was released eight months after 9/11, and you can feel it hanging heavy over the entirety of the album...
12. 18 -- ...like on the melancholy keyboard and piano of the title track, which virtually sounds like the audio for a montage featuring firefighters rushing into the burning buildings, the towers collapsing, confused, debris-covered people shuffling around the wreckage not knowing what to do, the planes crashing into the buildings in slow motion again and again. Dammit, here comes the PTSD. What a damn lousy day.
13. Sleep Alone -- The wave of now seemingly infinite sadness continues. Moby singing the line "At least we were together, holding hands, flying through the sky," conjures even more 9/11 imagery, over the most grey-sky, downbeat sounds Moby can conjure.
14. At Least We Tried (featuring Freedom Bremner) -- By this point you've either turned off the album, or you really like commiserating with sad music. Sad piano, a minimal beat, and the lyrics, "oh my baby, don't cry, oh my babe, just say goodbye/oh now baby, don't cry/oh my babe, at least we tried, at least we tried to make it, but in these days I'm so confused." Then a strange keyboard break that sounds like a sheet of perplexed sadness scraping down the corridors of your ears.
15. Harbour (featuring Sinéad O'Connor) -- And here we are. I don't mean to be callous, but coming from someone who has been there, this is a song to kill yourself to. Thankfully, "Harbour" is the peak of 18's back half's crushing wall of depression and sadness, but that depression and sadness is so bleak and unrelenting on "Harbour," this is little consolation.
the street bears no relief
when everybody's fighting
the street bears no relief
with light so hot and binding
I run the stairs away
and walk into the nighttime
the sadness flows like water
and washes down the heartache
and washes down the heartache
my heart is full
my heart is wide
the saddest song to play
on the strings of my heart
the heat is on its own
the roof seems so inviting
a vantage point is gained
to watch the children fighting
so lead me to the harbour
and float me on the waves
sink me in the ocean
to sleep in a sailor's grave
Damn, Moby. For real? I love Sinéad O'Connor guest-spots, and this one is as good as any she's done. Her vocals are on point with the melancholy of Moby's lyrics and arrangement, the latter of which is a steady, heartless death-march beat and bassline, guitar that contrastingly sounds like tears and a suicide note, and that big keyboard line at the end that Moby can turn in at a pinch, but that always does the trick. Here's the song. Please don't kill yourself. There's too much cool stuff to experience, and your problems are almost always far more minor than you think.
16. Look Back In -- At this point, the album attempts to inject some feeling of moving on to positivity, and the instrumental, "Look Back In," does a decent enough job. Nice beat, uplifiting, yet solemn keyboards, good bassline.
17. The Rafters (featuring Shauna & Lorraine Phillips) --After shooting you in the head, Moby wants to party with you. "The Rafters" features a dance beat and bassline and a rowdy gospel sample to get you out on the floor...but that floor's already been cleared out.
18. I'm Not Worried at All (featuring The Shining Light Gospel Choir) -- The "everything is going to be alright" track that Moby had to include at the end of this album so that he could go to bed with a clear conscious...but I don't buy it, man. "All of these burdens seem to fall, I'm not worried at all," sings an old gospel singer over Moby's rendition of post-modern gospel music. After all that sadness, though, something about this track seems just a little too calculated, like Moby knew he couldn't end things on such a desolate note, and had to create something uplifting. However, Moby's heart just doesn't seem in this song like it was for the five song (tracks 11-15) dirge that preceeded this album-closing three-song run of optimism. I didn't believe 18's album-ending optimism was honest then, and I don't believe it now, either. It's not that I believe that things in life can't be positive, it's that I don't believe that the end of this album is truthful in its positivity.
For me again, it all comes back to 9/11. Look at the covers for Play and 18 side-by-side.
Play's background is a verdant green, the color of life. 18's is a deep, sober blue. On the cover of Play, Moby is jamming, natural. On 18, his posed smile almost says, "See, everything is okay!" but the way he's holding that space helmet proves he's in unfamiliar territory--the back cover features him in the same pose...no longer smiling. 18 also features the same amount of tracks as Play...18 to be exact, again as if to say, "See, nothing's changed, it's all good! Look, we even kept the same font!" It's not all good, though, and as much as I prefer the jolly 90's, that's fine. I just wish the album would have committed totally to Moby's new identity. Cut out all the Play wannabe tracks. You're not going to capture that lightning in a bottle again by acting like the air hasn't changed. Pare the album down. Take out the Play clones. Cut "In This World," "In My Heart," "One of These Mornings," "Sunday," hell, as fun as it is, take out "Jam for the Ladies," too, as it's too close to Play's "Bodyrock." You've still got a THIRTEEN song album. That's long enough. A shorter length would make 18's downer nature much easier to swallow, as your head would not be held under the despairingly blue water for as long anymore. That might even make "I'm Not Worried at All" feel more honest. With a shorter album, there's less to not be more "worried" about.
Who cares? you think. You're never going to listen to this, or you bought it and listened to it once and sold it. That's a shame, though, as I think 18 is a valuable document of post-9/11 grief, even with its weaknesses. And, grief and depression still need commiserating music now, just as they did 13 years ago. Apparently, those feelings can still pop up just as much when you're older.
2002 V2 Records
1. We Are All Made of Stars 4:32
2. In This World (featuring Jennifer Price) 4:02
3. In My Heart (featuring The Shining Light Gospel Choir) 4:36
4. Great Escape (featuring Azure Ray) 2:09
5. Signs of Love 4:25
6. One of These Mornings (featuring Dianne McCaulley) 3:12
7. Another Woman 3:56
8. Fireworks 2:13
9. Extreme Ways 3:57
10. Jam for the Ladies (featuring MC Lyte and Angie Stone) 3:22
11. Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday) 5:09
12. 18 4:28
13. Sleep Alone 4:45
14. At Least We Tried (featuring Freedom Bremner) 4:08
15. Harbour (featuring Sinéad O'Connor) 6:27
16. Look Back In 2:20
17. The Rafters (featuring Shauna & Lorraine Phillips) 3:22
18. I'm Not Worried at All (featuring The Shining Light Gospel Choir) 4:11