He may be an LA native now, but Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt reeks of longing and homesickness, in its sentiments as well as its music. It is as though his home city of New York has somehow been calling amid the political chaos of America, which he inhabits deeply on a day to day basis. The most logical musical response is therefore to seek solace in the familiar.
We return once again to the familiar Moby territory of introversion, hoods up, wrapped in a blanket, looking warily into the future. The difference this time is that the singer’s vulnerability, clearly audible in an uncertain, trembling delivery, is countered by a much greater resilience, drawing from the deep seated anger and discontent expressed in a primal form with the Pacific choir.
The instrumentation, beats, harmonies and tempi are all familiar, but this greater resolve and authenticity gives each track much more of a backbone. Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child taps into this. “I’m never safe from all this danger,” says the spoken word passage, the author more or less looking over his shoulder in dread. “Just stay with me,” pleads the plaintive The Waste Of Suns. Both are countered by a musical surety that makes things right.
So too The Last Of Goodbyes, which could almost be a tribute to 2016 and everyone that sailed away with her. “I can see how it’s falling apart,” says Moby in a small voice, but the soothing vocal of the chorus, not a million miles from the cooing delivery of an Enya song, puts things right. This Wild Darkness has a similar call and response format, with a touching and ultimately uplifting choral line winning the day and lighting the way.
On The Ceremony Of Innocence Moby reconnects with the Philip Glass-like arpeggio figures that have been a feature of his work since the early 1990s, and elsewhere on this album he continues to speak strongly through the piano, still the lone bedroom producer despite all the relative success and raised profile.
The gently rippling harmonies of The Sorrow Tree are as clear as a lake on a cold winter’s day, offering consolation in the midst of its darkly rumbling beats. It is bettered by Falling Rain And Light, a melancholy but deeply resilient track that has a lasting depth to its string arrangements, beats and gently oscillating pianos.
The album ends on a sinister, prophetic note. “I’m gonna head down to the river, cos a dark cloud is coming,” goes the doom-laden vocal – but the music pans out to a gorgeous, rich cloud of cellos, like an ascending cloud of strings that brings back Moby’s masterly use of them in God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters.
With this widescreen delivery Moby has made an album at once more profound and more substantial than anything we have heard from him in a long time, and certainly more personally meaningful than Play. Its subject matter and attachments confirm he is still very much a man of the people, but also tell in everything but words of his isolation as a celebrity. At times this is clearly a source of inspiration to him, but the feeling here is that it can also be a drag. Expressing those feelings in music is the best thing he can do – and as a result, everything is beautiful – and it hurts less by the end.