Play and 18, Richard Hall’s last two records (under the Moby name), sold millions of copies. Inventive use of gospel-tinged samples married to synth loops formed what became a tried and tested formula that brought Moby enormous success. Tracks from both records peppered TV ads across the world, and Extreme Ways even became the theme for a Matt Damon movie franchise. Moby’s coffers swelled.
So it comes as a surprise that with his latest record, Hotel, Moby waves goodbye to sample land and opts instead for entirely original compositions. Could this be the start of a shift in direction?
The sleevenotes give nothing away on this front, opting instead to enlighten his public to why his new record is called Hotel.
“Hotels fascinate me,” opines the tiny tea shop owner and cartoonist. “They’re incredibly intimate spaces that are scoured every 24 hours and made to look completely anonymous.” This he likens to the human condition – we live our lives and our presence is wiped clean when we die. “I…really like people and the messy miasma of the human condition,” he continues, “and I want to make messy, human records that are open and emotional.” He neglects to request his hotel rooms to be kept in a state of messy miasma. Perhaps he’d rather not use someone else’s dirty towel.
Hotel is a mixed bag of tempos and intentions, but whether it is best described as a “human” record is far from clear. It’s safe to assume that Hotel wasn’t made by washing machines or sardines, and that its author (despite confessing “I do occasionally wish that I was a robot”) is human. But how emotional is it?
Moby’s examination of messy humanity begins with an elegiac and imaginatively titled track, Hotel Intro. It employs reverse recording loops reminiscent of Bjork‘s Vespertine album, with squelchy tapping drums and synth strings overlaying the whole as though in tribute to William Orbits’ ways with the classics.
The track fails to prepare the listener for the following slew of obvious singles, beginning with Raining Again. Spiky guitar augments the classic Moby set-up of piano, synth strings and a driving beat, with his fragile vocals adding the finishing touch to the arrangement.
Beautiful follows, sounding like a chorus in search of verses but sporting a pop production with the kind of hooks not easily forgotten. For all its slickness and catchy chorus it isn’t especially interesting, but better is to come.
Lead single Lift Me Up is a stomp of an anthem that is impossible to prevent setting up shop in the brain. Learning the lyrics is made easier by virtue of every line being echoed at least once. Its arrangement calls to mind Eighties electro pioneers New Order – this is not new dance music.
Fittingly, New Order’s song Temptation is covered two tracks later, with Moby’s friend Laura Dawn offering sultry vocals over a heartbeat, strings and jangly guitar. It’s a love song, and one of the record’s several quiet moments.
There’s liveliness again for Where I End, Slipping Away, Spiders and especially Very. For this tranciest moment Dawn returns to show she can do dance diva as well as sultry songstress – and any one of these tracks would look at home in the singles chart.
Quiet moments contrast well with the obvious singles. Dream About Me finds Dawn duetting with Moby on vocals, while the album’s closing tracks, Forever and Homeward Angel, are almost chilled enough to induce sleep.
Hotel is hardly the full gamut of messy miasma then, for there’s nothing in the way of anger, euphoria, anxiety, terror or indeed edginess. The record ends up as a whole representing, if anything, hotel rooms being cleaned during the day and slept in at night. Activities like these no more make revolutions than records like this do, whether samples feature or otherwise.