Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Music from or inspired by ...

Last Night
Score: 5

Moby has already had what could be considered a full life cycle, going from obscurity to club fixture to cult figure to household name to household name that never comes up.

Last Night attempts to step back to his early '90s club days, but it lacks the hyperkinetic energy of "Drop a Beat" or "Electricity." His female vocalists, too, are more subdued. Compare "The Stars" to "Ah Ah" or "Go," both on his 1992 self-titled release. "The Stars," somewhat of a combination of those tracks, uses a quick cut of a crowd cheering (playing the role of the "Go!" chant) and replaces the quasi-gospel "Ah ah" with the quasi-gospel "I see the stars." Near the end of its midsection, vaguely eerie synths --- not unlike the "Twin Peaks" ones he sampled to great effect in "Go" --- sneak in.

The main sample of "257.Zero" should be so lucky. A woman, possibly an air-traffic controller, intones, "Two, five, seven." Then, "Two, five, seven." And again, "Two, five, seven." And finally ... "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, zero."

Maybe there's a cool dance Moby could do with it and an audience, but it's dead on record.

"Everyday It's 1989" is one of the few tracks that does justice to his earlier works. The piano run and the crisp beats build each other up as a diva hollers and the synth layers beam in like lasers.

By contrast, "Alice" and "I Love to Move in Here" don't resemble what he's done before. Instead they point, perhaps, to Moby's next creative stage. Both are collaborations. "I Love to Move in Here" shimmies with a Brazilian rhythm, and versatile session vocalist Chrissi Poland provides Reddi Wip-light coos that flank an underwhelming appearance by Grandmaster Caz, whose old-school detour lasts for all of 40 seconds. "Alice," a foray into hard-edged territory, bristles with bass feedback and features the show-stealing flow of MC Aynzli of Nigerian group 419 Squad.

Moby's smart to pass the mike to his guests. Hotel foundered in part because he sang lead on almost every track. Although he can carry punk rock-styled songs, like Play's "Machete" and Animal Rights' "That's When I Reach for My Revolver," his voice remains the weakest of his attributes. His strongest might be his strings. Moby's strings have always kissed the sky.

In the liner notes, Moby writes that Last Night is about two things: "trying to take 24 years of going out in nyc and condensing it into a 65 minute record" and "trying to condense an 8 hour night into just over an hour of music."

On the first count, the album misses by a mile. In no way does it approach the variety and scope his statement implies. New York City birthed whole archetypes of music that aren't represented here. Of course, this is Moby's album, and he can interpret that 24-year orgy of sounds as he sees fit. He comes closer to his second goal, as Last Night holds to the basic structure of a dance mix, building up the tempo, then bearing down or easing back, depending on whether it's time for a breather (although its last third locks you in the chillout room). Again, though, it's in Moby's hands how that hour plays out, and considering that Last Night is on the New Releases shelf, there's a good chance this is exactly how he wanted it to sound.

But the theme seems like window dressing when you consider that all those years and styles and nights and venues, when boiled down and shaped into songs, all come out sounding like Moby. Whether it's the mystérieux intrigue of "Hyenas" or the stately contemplation of "Mothers of the Night," there's no way you'd mistake the songs for anyone else. Then again, maybe that's the point.

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