Following one of the most licensed CDs in history, 18 delivers more of the gospel samples and spiritual exploration that made Play Moby's breakthrough album. But keep your expectations in check. On 18 there is barely a body-rocker in the bunch. This is often a somber, melancholy disc, blanketed in the washed-over cinematic orchestral melodies Moby's been fond of since his classic self-titled debut. It requires several listenings before the gems shine through the ambient fog--and most depart from Play entirely. On the deceptively minimalist opening track, Moby delivers a powerful message through his thin little voice. "We are all made of stars," he sings, and indeed he's believable. MC Lyte punches out an infectious rap over old-school beat-box rhythms on "Jam for the Ladies," offering one of the disc's few roof-raisers. "At Least We Tried" is a tear-jerking swan song of the highest order, and, finally, "The Rafters" resurrects early-90s house piano, which will make any of Moby's career-long fans pine for his earliest club hits. The diminutive DJ needn't have produced Play Pt. Two to keep his new fans engaged. Fortunately, his greatest talent for cooking up interesting sounds is still audible; you just need the patience to find it. --Beth Massa
Face it, Moby's the one. He's our star, the public face in America for all that is electronic music/culture, the prototypical inspired DIY raver of the early '90s who used determination and unmitigated gall to become a bona fide icon and sell over 10 million copies of his groundbreaking last album, Play. And he did it in inimitable style (remember his cover of Mission of Burma's "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" on 1996's Animal Rights?), so there's no reason to hate on him for it.
So it's impossible to talk about 18 without serious referencing of its predecessor, an album that slowly and methodically revolutionized what we know as "future music" by primarily sampling rural Americana from the turn of the 20th century and literally selling the results back in a litany of fashions. Moby notoriously (and without apology) licensed every track from Play for use in everything from movies to commercials, a move that spurred the album's meteoric rise.
Such stratospheric success affords one considerable clout, and it shows. Moby takes the opportunity to craft a sprawling, ambitious 18-track effort that's hardly the cash-in it could've been. Still, his mother obviously didn't raise a fool, so he's quick to reference the sounds and ideas that propelled Play into so many music collections. Opening with the uplifting New Wave-y pulse of "We Are All Made of Stars," "In This World" and "In My Heart" pick up where Play left off. Both are rife with swelling soundtrack strings and mournful female voices riding a rhythm reminiscent of something from Side Two of Duran Duran's Seven and the Ragged Tiger. Along with the weepy hip-hop of "Another Woman" and the tear-drenched pianos of "Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday)," a good chunk of 18 is a perpetuation of the electronic blues Moby has turned into a signature.
The irony of being born on Sept. 11 is not lost, and the thick, oft-somber mood of 18 can be traced to that infamous date. "Sleep Alone" (which commences what could be considered the album's second half) sounds like Leonard Cohen moaning over a Portishead instrumental, with Moby intoning "At least we were together/holding hands/flying through the sky," the 9/11 reference easily apparent. That's followed closely by "Harbour," where an unaffected electric guitar and stark drum machine beat play host to an amazingly engaging Sinead O'Connor vocal performance. Lounging reflectively like the Blake Babies or even Yo La Tengo gone hi-fi, it's the finest moment 18 has to offer, even with the slightly overwrought chorus.
"Jam for the Ladies" is the one straight-up party tune, with soul sisters Angie Stone and MC Lyte hyping the crowd on this obvious single. Think "Body Rock Pt. II."
Ending on the barn-storming "The Rafters" and an experienced "I'm Not Worried At All," 18 is not Moby's masterpiece, as many might have hoped/feared/expected. But it is an exceptional work that shows definite progression from Play but ultimately falls short of his potential. For an artist, that's the highest compliment I've got.
Scott Sterling -- From URB Magazine