It has been suggested by many that Moby‘s 18 showed a certain lack of creativity. Play had definitely been something completely new – and it had taken a long time to get off the ground – but by 2002 we were all well familiar with its contents from every TV advert and film that had appeared in the last few years. Time for a follow up.
But 18 opens with We Are All Made of Stars, which was also the first single, and is undeniably very different from anything Moby had done before, so creativity was not lacking completely. It’s a great song, which owes a lot to David Bowie, and a great opening track.
Jennifer Price turns up next to deliver the vocals for third single In This World, a beautiful track, but very much in the vein of Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? If you were looking for excuses to accuse Moby of repetition, they definitely exist here.
Next come The Shining Light Gospel Choir to help out on the irritatingly similarly named In My Heart. This one is sufficiently different from most of Play, but by now you’ll definitely be finding it difficult not to make the comparison.
As with Play, there are eighteen tracks on here, and Moby does a good job in structuring them and making them different enough that they flow together well as an album without being boring, but that’s a tough ask with so many different tracks. The big change from the preceding album is the focus on collaborations, rather than sampling old records, and so the soft vocals of Azure Ray make a pleasant change on Great Escape.
However, when Moby turns up to deliver his own vocals against his thick pads and gentle drums, you can’t help but thinking it sounds familiar. Signs of Love is great, but surely he did something like this an album or two ago? Well, probably not two, because that would get you to Animal Rights, but you get the point…
Dianne McCaulley sounds like a sample on One of These Mornings, but I don’t think she is. It’s another great song, but it could very easily have fitted on Play. Same with Another Woman and the sweet, semi-acoustic Fireworks.
Second single Extreme Ways is next, and is characteristic of the fact that Moby really was extremely creative with this album – he just underplayed it very badly. As a single, it peaked at number 39 in the UK, performing less well than several of its neighbours, and yet it has appeared in pretty much every Bourne film ever since, and the Bourne’s Ultimatum remix performed nearly as well on the charts as the original. Clearly there’s nothing wrong with the song – in fact it’s excellent – but perhaps people were a little burnt out from hearing too much Moby in 2002.
Having heard the German single version with Princess Superstar, the album version of Jam for the Ladies, with MC Lyte and Angie Stone falls a bit flat. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it – it just seems a bit dull compared to the reworked version.
Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday) is a beautiful piece – it’s built around a sample, so it’s very much Moby‘s turn-of-the-millennium signature sound, but it’s also one of the best, and was a worthy single, even though it failed to make the charts. This is followed by a sweet instrumental, the title track from the album.
It’s worth remembering that Moby was a long-term New York resident, and released 18 just six months after the September 11th terror attacks. But there’s relatively little sadness or introspection on here, until the beautiful Sleep Alone. Written just the week before the attacks, it’s a haunting piece about lovers dying in a plane crash.
There’s a certain sadness to At Least We Tried as well, and then Sinéad O’Connor turns up for Harbour. I’m not actually overly enamoured with her voice, and this is a nice track, but I’ve always wondered if it actually really goes anywhere. After a while, you’ll just find yourself drifting from one song to the next, as Look Back in carries you onwards.
The Rafters is a bit different – a little bit, anyway, with a gospel “mmmm” most of the way through it, and then we’re on to the final track I’m Not Worried at All already, a beautiful closing track, and a very different one to the preceding album.
So 18 may not have actually been Moby‘s second album, but it is a difficult second album, in its own way. It has a lot to offer – it just might have been better regarded if it hadn’t come out quite so soon after the success of Play. If you know his works but not this album, now would be a good time to give it a go.
You can still find 18 from major retailers, at a bargain price.