x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Moby: Wait for Me

Moby is back after a break - and perhaps a bit too introspective - but, after all, this is the guy who licensed all the tracks from his 1999 album, Play, for commercial use.

At 43 and with his ninth studio album, Wait for Me, out now, Moby says he is more comfortable with his output than before.
At 43 and with his ninth studio album, Wait for Me, out now, Moby says he is more comfortable with his output than before.

You remember Moby. He's that small, skinny, bald man; the New Yorker who produced Play in 1999. The album became the first-ever record to license all its tracks for commercial use. Nokia, Jaguar, Calvin Klein and the rather less glamorous Maxwell House coffee empire were just a few of the brands that signed on the dotted line and churned out his work.

The floaty melodies of tracks such as Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? and Porcelain flagged the brands as young, hip and cool; the album marched up the charts and achieved critical success. It sold 10 million copies worldwide. It spent weeks in album charts across the world. Everybody was happy, no? No. Behind the scenes, Moby seethed. He fell back on the excuse that licensing was the only way to get his music listened to, but he was accused by more stringent industry figures of selling out. Still, he was a tea-drinking vegan and a central figure in the 1990s rave movement. He spoke vaguely of being "spiritual". On Planet Moby, he was not a commercial musician who sonically repackaged old blues and gospel music, especially not for lots of lovely money. He was a true artist.

No wonder, then, that the fairy tale soured and Moby started to abuse the trappings that traditionally come with fame and fortune. In 2002, he released another successful album, 18, but all was not well in his world. He fell down with a duff album in 2005 called Hotel, and then seemed to retire from the big time. Until now. His ninth studio album, Wait for Me, has just been unleashed. At the age of 43, Moby claims he is more comfortable with his output than before and has turned his back on the hedonistic days of old. Yet there is more than a touch of Play in his new work, recorded mostly in his home studio in the Nolita neighbourhood of New York. Blissed-out keyboard chords feature along with high-pitched strings, a smattering of vocal tracks amid mournful, instrumental melodies and the odd bit of gospel backing. The cumulative sound is instantly recognisable as Moby's - haunting, but not radically different.

In keeping with his volte-face against the Play days and mainstream success, though, he collaborated with relative unknowns in the music world on Wait for Me, unlike previous albums for which he roped in names such as Debbie Harry, Sinead O'Connor and Angie Stone. "If people can do it and come up with good records then more power to them, but I would rather make a record with my friends or people no one has ever heard of than a celebrity," he said in a recent interview in Australia, almost as if he still feels he has something to prove to his previous critics.

After the two-minute instrumental introduction to the album, Division, the listener is led into Pale Horses. It's the first single to be issued from the album, and has been released on a CD that features nine versions of the same song. (Yes, that's right - nine. It gives you some idea of how much electronic fiddling around Moby likes to do.) It features gentle drum backing and dreamlike singing from one of these unknown friends of Moby's, Amelia Zirin Brown, who sounds somewhat sombre in tone. "Look at all the places where all my family died," she broods at one point.

It is a track that sets the tone for the remainder of the album, one to avoid if you're looking for an uplifting listen. Moby has said before that if he was allowed, he would only ever produce covers of Joy Division songs. Expect the same level of cheeriness here. "Don't let me make the same mistake again / I never felt this loss before / And the world is closing doors," he sings longingly in Mistake.

The album's title track continues in a similar vein. "Life I have isn't what I've seen / The sky's not blue and the field's not green," whispers the American soul singer Leela James against repeating piano chords and electronic distortion. Ultimately, if you fancy 51 minutes of introspective calm spread across 16 tracks, have a listen to Wait for Me. After all, in the years since Play, introspection is presumably something that Moby has become rather good at.