“Is he mad? Anyway there’s something on his mind, as sure as there must be something on a deck when it cracks.”
This quote from Moby Dick is a perfect description of the man born Richard Melville Hall, or Moby, to you and me. Yes, we all know that his great-great-grand uncle was Herman, the author of Moby Dick, the same book where Richard nicked his alias.
Moby is sort of a techno-fied mad scientist who never failed to create new waves. He always seemed to be shaking up controversy while spinning his trademark body rhythms. If not because of his Bowie-esque chameleon ways of changing musical styles, his devout Christian and vegan beliefs, or his self-image of a book worm/nerd turned punk rock wannabe—Moby has found ways to infuriate his fans all the while influencing a new generation of electronic followers with his unique blend of rock/club anthems that have led him out of synthesized obscurity and into a heavily mocked, yet celebrated, anti-hero; an atypical rags to raver tale worthy of his own Behind The Music special.
I myself always seem to have had discombobulated emotions when it comes to Moby, and his music. It goes from having respect for this DJ turned electro-rocker to disappointment at his choices of musical styles, collaborations or otherwise. During the early nineties I was going to raves and had immersed myself in club culture. One of my earliest dance floor memories was being at a rave and hearing Moby’s first hit “Go.” The song where he took a sample from the theme from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and added electronic beats to it. It was a dance floor smash and made Moby an immediate icon in the club community.
The one thing I have given Moby props over is that he’s never been afraid of offending his rabid fan base. After raving it up for those first few years on the Instinct label, he went all rocker on us with his major releases on the Elektra label, and then it continued to evolve; Moby’s output traveling the musical spectrum from techno to punk, then on to an ambient style.
The punk rhythms from some of the tracks off his aptly titled major label debut Everything is Wrong really antagonized his rave audience; much like the Nine Inch Nails crowd turned on Trent Reznor after he went Broken aggro style on us following the success of the very club friendly Pretty Hate Machine.
Moby’s audience actually must have thought that he had gone mad, but this didn’t stop Mr. Hall. His follow up, Animal Rights, was even more of a thrash-up punk album, which caused Moby’s career into a downward freefall that didn’t stop until 1999’s surprise hit Play. What I loved about the tracks “Natural Blues” and “Why Does my Heart Feel So Bad” on Play was that Moby sampled old blues records, layering them over dance rhythms, the magic of this breathing new life into his music. It was as if Moby inrjected a much needed jolt of soul that was sorely missing from his prior creative output.
Play became (in)famous in the music world and some tainted him with the term sell-out because at the time Moby licensed most of the songs to film, television and commercials. Moby thought this was the only way his album, made in his studio apartment on his own dime, would be heard by the listening public. He did have a point. After his spiral into obscurity Moby’s career was heading towards VH-1’s Where are they Now territory, but by licensing his music to various media outlets Moby got resurrected, and found respect by critics, and a new audience, alike. He even had a soundtrack hit with the ambient flavored “Porcelain,” which was featured in such films as The Beach and Playing by Heart.
18 was the pseudo-sequel, if you will, to Play. It wasn’t as successful, but still was an impressive, albeit understated album, including the minor hit, and David Bowie “Heroes” influenced, “We Are All Made of Stars.” Moby continued his foray into lending his songs to soundtracks; you may have recognized the song “Extreme Ways” as the theme to the Matt Damon blockbuster The Bourne Identity.
The follow-up to 18 was a concept album based on Moby’s fascination with hotels, aptly titled— Hotel. I thought it was Moby’s most mature album to date, and his best since Play. Moby continued his mastery of ambient themes and melodies on this record, something that he highlighted on a compilation album I like to Score. Score features Moby’s now familiar electronic mood music, and tracks like “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters”; another appearance by a Moby song found in a soundtrack, this time in the Michael Mann film, Heat.
This brings me to Go-The Very Best of Moby. Let me start with my objections—although I like all the songs that Moby selected, I’m greedy; I wanted to hear more. One disc just doesn’t do Moby justice.
Absent are Moby’s most excellent covers of Joy Division’s “New Dawn Fades” from the Means to an End tribute disc, and New Order’s” Temptation,” from Hotel. I would have loved to have heard Moby’s tribute to his hero, friend and NYC neighbor David Bowie, “Spiders.” Also missing in action is “Flowers,” the song that’s a close cousin to Play‘s “Honey”, made famous from the soundtrack to Gone in Sixty Seconds.
One thing that bothers me about this CD is the addition of a new track, “New York, New York.” This is a practice that really annoys me, and it doesn’t just pertain to Moby. When artists add new songs to best of compilations—U2, Patti Smith and Crowded House are a few that come to mind that have committed similar acts—it takes away from the integrity of the collection. Why not just let a best of CD actually be a greatest hits disc, without adding new tracks, which may not be great at all? Doesn’t this defy the entire concept? Speaking of, this new track with Deborah Harry is not a new or even interesting tribute to the city that never sleeps. I’m sure New Yorkers will probably have a few words with Señor Hall when they run into him on the streets. I would have rather Moby Go‘ed it up and sampled Sinatra’s version, merely adding beats to it. Wishful thinking, I guess.
I digress— to me the most disappointing thing was the extra bonus disc of over-remixed club tracks that just doesn’t do it for me. I put away my pacifier and glow sticks long ago. I wish Moby would have added a disc on b-sides and underappreciated rarities like he did on the Special Edition of Play. I guess the extra CD on this Best Of is a way of appeasing those club fans that turned on him after he tried to morph into a pseudo-punk rocker.
I do like the sequencing of the non-remix portion of this compilation; Moby blends together old and new, danceable cuts like “Lift Me Up” with ambient gems like “Porcelain.” Moby even added the original version of “South Side” sans Stefani and two decent new 2006 mixes of “Go” and “In My Heart.” I also appreciate Moby not getting too preachy on the liner notes like he’s done before on previous album sleeves. On this disc, Moby leaves his political beliefs behind and lets his music do the singing.
The problem with the majority of greatest hits/best of compilations is that you can’t please everyone. Overall, Moby did a respectable job with his choices—after all, they are his songs. Yeah, I admit at times during his career Moby got on my nerves, but this CD represents a musical canon of a composer who’s more than just a DJ. Moby makes beautiful music that some of us have matured along with. He has been there through the ecstasy fueled raves and during the comedowns. One thing I can say I took from revisiting these eclectic classics is that we can dream and dance to the muse of an artist who feels his emotions by sharing his beat and breath within; love or loathe him, Moby created memorable rhythms that we will not soon forget.
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