Any musician who has a massively successful album is faced with a unique problem. The follow-up album to that massive hit. Some rebel against that success and go in a totally different direction, akin to what Prince did after "Purple Rain". Yes, "Around The World In A Day" had some "Purple Rain"-like moments but the paisley washed, Beatles influenced psychedelia of the majority of the album was a far cry from the mass appeal pop/rock/funk attack of its predecessor. The stark differences between the two albums killed off the interest of a lot of the casual listening general public but cemented Prince's reputation as an innovator and ground breaker who didn't care to repeat himself, endearing himself to a legion of die-hard fans willing to take every new musical journey with him. Some artists literally go crazy in their unattainable quest to match or top overwhelming success as Michael Jackson did after every post-"Thriller" release.
Although not on a par with those two albums in terms of overall sales figures, Moby's 1999 masterpiece "Play" still went on to sell over ten million copies worldwide, numbers no one ever expected out of a Moby record, especially at that stage of his career. It certainly caught the humble, self-effacing DJ/musician by surprise. The last time there had been this much buzz about Moby in the public eye was after his critically heralded 1995 major label debut "Everything Is Wrong" catapulted him into an electronic music star. His daring response was 1996's "Animal Rights", a punk rock album that alienated and confused many in the techno/electronic music community, sold poorly and turned off a lot of critics.
Moby's first post- "Play" release was a lot less radical of a departure than "Animal Rights" was from "Everything Is Wrong". 2002's "18" was seen by many as a safe repeat of the formula used on "Play", even an attempt to milk it for all it's worth. It certainly was a sample heavy continuation of many of the styles utilized on "Play" and, although it did not sell nearly as well, still moved more than four million copies worldwide. I'm personally very fond of "18" and have always viewed it as more of a companion piece to it's predecessor and the closing of that chapter of Moby's career. Don't get me wrong, "Play" is the better album but "18" is still, to me, the perfect follow-up.
In recent interviews Moby has expressed his unhappiness with his next release, 2005's "Hotel". Although he is happy with most of the songs at their core, he is not fond of the sound or the production on the album. He's mentioned it was an album he made feeling pressure to appease radio, his label and, most likely, those who criticized "18" for being "Play Part Two". Gone were all sampled vocals and many of the electronics he had become known for. Moby and friend Laura Dawn handled all vocals, and all instruments on "Hotel" were recorded live in studio. Although not a bad album, "Hotel" started to show an artist unsure of his direction after that "mega hit" album.
Things veered even further off track with last year's "Last Night". Intended as a return to his early dance music roots, and a tribute to dance music heard on a typical night out in his New York neighborhood, the album is filled with some of the most mediocre tracks Moby has ever released. It was hard to believe the man behind dance classics like "Go" and "Next Is The E" was responsible for such bland, repetitive tracks as "Everyday It's 1989" and the abysmal album opener "Ooh Yeah". Besides, he had already released a superior return to his dance music roots on the 2004 "Baby Monkey" album, albeit under his pseudonym Voodoo Child. "Last Night" was, by far, the most disappointing release of 2008 for me considering how much I look forward to a new Moby release. As a matter of fact, I was so disappointed in the album, I feared Moby had finally "lost it" and was turning into another in a long line of musicians who churn out average to mediocre work for the rest of their career after reaching their peak of worldwide success.
Which brings us to the forthcoming "Wait For Me", due June 30th in the States. Announced under the radar on his website in April, it was clear things would be different with this release. It was recorded entirely in his home studio and is to be released on his own Little Idiot record label. Moby has made it clear in interviews the album was made free of commercial pressures and worries of how it will sell. He instead focused on recording something he would truly be happy with. In other words, the complete opposite of his experience with "Hotel". The result is his finest work since "Play" and "18" and a true return to form.
Don't look for dance music on "Wait For Me". There isn't any. Somber and melancholy, yet often uplifting in it's beauty, it's a 16 track melodic journey Moby has asked to be listened to from beginning to end as a cohesive work. There are no obvious "singles" on it and that's really the point. He's made a personal album for himself, and by staying true to what he wants to produce, gives the listener a rewarding experience.
The lush strings of the two minute instrumental opener "Division" set the tone for the album before the second single, "Pale Horses" follows. With vocals by his friend Amelia Zirin Brown recorded as if to sound they came from an old record of the 1950's, it's a daring single choice and already better than anything on his last two studio albums. Opening with simple keyboards and a drum beat, the song beautifully builds on Brown's sensitive vocals as Moby adds bass then his trademark electronic strings. It's a sad, yet compellingly gorgeous track, and one of the best on the album.
The first track released from the album, the instrumental "Shot In The Back Of the Head" follows with heavy electric guitar dominating the track over a bed of keyboards and live drums. It was an interesting decision to release this as the first preview of the album to come, but it served notice that commercial interests are not what this album is about.
Slower, ambient, instrumental tracks have always been a part of the Moby canon and they're interspersed throughout the rest of "Wait For Me". "Scream Pilots" also features electric guitar to carry the melody of the song, again over keys and live drums, but also incorporating piano work to accent the melody. "A Seated Night" builds around a sample of a choir with strings swelling before a quiet conclusion. The album closes on three instrumental pieces, the ambient "Ghost Return", the string heavy "Slow Light" and "Isolate" which focuses on guitar and piano work.
The vocal tracks on the album are mostly handled by female friends of Moby's. On his website, he claims it's usually nicer working with relatively unknown friends as opposed to rock stars. I'll take this approach any day over Gwen Stefani butchering another Moby track, thank you very much. "Walk With Me" has smoky, nearly gospel vocals over an ambient soundscape. The title track is a lovely mix of piano and violin before drums and bass kick in with Kelli Scarr handling the vocals. "JLTF" is another of the album's standouts. Achingly beautiful yet painfully sad with it's chorus of "All the words we said/all the time we spent/doesn't mean nothing/doesn't mean nothing."
Male vocals are only present on two tracks. Moby makes his only vocal appearance on "Mistake" and although he'll never be confused as a great singer, his tentative voice works to great effect here. Over strings and a lone, repeating drum beat he opens "Don't speak to me this way/don't ever let me say/don't leave me again/don't leave me again", later imploring "Don't hurt me this way/ don't touch me this way/don't hurt me again" in an incredibly vulnerable performance. Musically the track is reminiscent of some of the quieter tracks on "Animal Rights" with guitar, bass and live drums to the forefront, building as his frustration and anger grows as he pleads "please don't let me make the same mistake again" at the end.
"Study War" is the only track with a sampled vocal. It's also very reminiscent musically to his work on "Play" and "18". In fact, it sounds like it could be a leftover from that time period, even though it isn't. It's looped male vocal gives a simple anti-war message before female vocals join in on the chorus to soothingly declare "there will be no more". Yes, it's simplistic, but Moby has never been known for the deepest lyrics and it fits in well within the context of the album.
A conversation with David Lynch, who also directed the "Shot In The Back Of The Head" video, is what inspired Moby to follow his heart instead of commercial interests when recording this record. Often, the best music is created when the artist makes something for themselves first, a work they know they'll love, without worries of record sales or radio play. It has been a decade now since "Play" was released and Moby finally seems to be at the point where he's no longer concerned with his place in the music world or pleasing anyone but himself with his music. Fortunately, music fans get to reap the benefits of "Wait For Me", a sometimes dark and sorrowful but sublimely exceptional release.