Moby – 18

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.

Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine

I don’t know, you wait eight years for a new Jean-Michel Jarre album, and then three turn up at once. Sorry, I know that’s an obvious thing to say, but it is amusingly apposite. The fun but definitely questionable Téo & Téa (2007) left a slightly iffy taste in a lot of people’s mouths, and apart from the re-recorded and questionably legal version of Oxygène that followed the same year, there was then an extended silence until 2015.

What he was doing, it turns out, was working with every other electronic musician under the sun to create a two volume album, Electronica. The first opens with the sweet title track The Time Machine, with Boys Noize, and then comes one of the opening singles, Glory, with M83. So far, so pleasant.

Both of these albums have been criticised for being a bit disjointed, which, while not entirely unfair, seems a bit of an odd thing to say – of course they are, they’re effectively compilations of collaborations. But the sequence is generally logical, and there isn’t really anything particularly bad on here, so it’s hard to be too critical.

Fellow French musicians Air turn up next, for Close Your Eyes. Some tracks seem to have a lot more of Jarre, and others have a lot more of his collaborators on them, and in general, this one ends up sounding like Air might if they employed Jarre as a producer. That is to say, pretty good.

The first time you can really call something here “brilliant” is on the two parts of Automatic, both collaborations with Vince Clarke. For Clarke, this sounds a lot like his recent solo and collaborative electronic projects, but Jarre’s influence is clearly audible here too, particularly in Part 2, and both halves of the track really are excellent.

The increasingly great Little Boots turns up next, pretty much the only musician other than Jarre to make the laser harp part of their live show, and their collaboration is If..! (yes, two dots). While it’s certainly true that Jarre did something on this one, it’s difficult to know exactly what, but it’s a great song nonetheless.

They keep coming – Immortals, with Fuck Buttons, is an excellent meeting of minds, and while Suns Have Gone with Moby may not be the high point of either artist’s career, you have to be glad that it happened.

It is undeniably an odd list of collaborators though – which is not to say that Gesaffelstein shouldn’t be here – after all, why not? Few might put him in their top thirty living artists of all time list, but the resulting track Conquistador is pretty good. This isn’t so true of Travelator (Part 2) (there doesn’t appear to be a part 1), with Pete Townshend, which I’m not convinced does the legacy of either great musician any particular favours.

That isn’t true of what is apparently Edgar Froese‘s last recorded work, Zero Gravity, which after so many decades finally brings us the joint credit of Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream, and it’s ever bit as excellent as it should be. It’s also nice to see Jarre revisiting his earlier musical partner Laurie Anderson for the decidedly odd Rely on Me.

Where these two albums both go a little astray for me is with the number of tracks – they’re varied, but after thirteen pieces of music and with no end in sight, you’re always going to be a little weary. Towards the end of the first volume, we get a fun trance excursion with  Armin van BuurenStardust, followed by the weirdly dubby Watching You, with 3D from Massive Attack.

Right at the end, John Carpenter turns up for the appropriately creepy A Question of Blood, and finally pianist Lang Lang accompanies an atmospheric piece on album closer The Train & The River. It’s a long, varied, and complex album, but in general it stands well on its own, and if you consider yourself a fan of any sort of electronic music, you should probably be a fan of this.

You can find part 1 of the Electronica project at all major retailers.

Chart for stowaways – 23 July 2016

Possibly not much change from a couple of weeks ago, but here are this week’s top singles:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Twenty-Something
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre & Pet Shop Boys – Brick England
  3. Clarke Hartnoll – Better Have a Drink to Think
  4. I Monster – The Bradley Brothers…
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre – The Heart of Noise
  6. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP
  7. Clarke Hartnoll – Single Function
  8. Pet Shop Boys – The Pop Kids
  9. Moby – Slipping Away
  10. Dirty Vegas – Let the Night – EP

Artist of the Week – Moby

The scheduling must have shifted a bit at some point, as this one is listed as the first artist of the week, but was definitely broadcast first, around 4.20am (!) on the third week of the radio show Music for the Masses, back in late 2004.

As before, apologies in advance for any inaccuracies, errors, hyperbole, or plagiarism in this piece – it was written twelve years ago and intended to be read out loud…

I want to kick off by explaining a little bit about [Moby‘s] musical career. He first picked up the name Moby as a child, being the great great grand-nephew (or something) of the Moby Dick author Herman Melville. During his relatively troubled childhood, he became passionate about music, particularly punk and John Lydon‘s Public Image Limited, among others.

Whilst at college, he formed several punk bands, none of which saw any great success, but in the late 1980s he moved to New York, and started DJing and making music for small underground record labels. In particular, he came up with a number of pseudonyms to become the driving force behind Instinct Records, who would go on to release several compilations of his early material.

After several underground successes, he first became known in the UK with his phenomenal hit Go, which drew heavily on Angelo Badalamenti‘s score for the David Lynch TV series Twin Peaks. After a few false starts, the single reached number 6 in the UK, and was a huge hit across the world.

During the early 1990s he would remix countless major acts, including Michael JacksonPet Shop BoysBrian EnoDepeche  ModeErasureThe B-52s, and Orbital, and in 1993 he was signed to the London-based label Mute Records.

His first proper album Everything is Wrong would explore and thoroughly question the different aspects of dance music, and would yield single after single in the UK, all of which were substantial hits. The follow-up though, 1996’s Animal Rights would throw dance out of the window, and turn to hard rock instead.

In 1997, following his fantastic reworking of the James Bond theme, he released a compilation of film tracks, entitled I Like to Score, and following this, he would see his greatest success ever, even if it took rather a long time to grip the world’s consciousness.

The first single from Play was Honey, and was released in mid-1998. At this time the album was already completed, but was delayed as he didn’t have a US record company. On its original release in the UK, it peaked at number 33 and in the US it only scraped the top 100. However, after prostituting every single album track, b-side, and remix onto films and adverts, he finally had his first US hit, and climbed his way up to the top of the UK charts. The album would eventually become so successful that no fewer than eight singles were released in the UK.

The follow-up, 2001’s 18 was seen by many as a disappointment, perhaps simply because it wasn’t adventurous enough. It’s a beautiful album though, and still yielded several hit singles and topped the charts again in the UK. After seeing underground success with his Voodoo Child side-project, his next proper album is due in the spring.

Retro chart for stowaways – 14 April 2007

These are the top ten albums from nine years ago this week:

  1. Client – Heartland
  2. Air – Pocket Symphony
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Téo & Téa
  4. Onetwo – Instead
  5. Marsheaux – Peeka Boo
  6. Sarah Nixey – Sing, Memory
  7. Tracey Thorn – Out of the Woods
  8. Faithless – Forever Faithless – The Greatest Hits
  9. Moby – Go – The Very Best of Moby
  10. Faithless – To All New Arrivals