There's a looped synth pad, repeated over a few bars, somewhere between sinister and muted euphoria; a churning, intense rhythm kicks in, lots of reverb and a slightly phased effect giving the beat a sense of purpose and forcedulness; a commanding voice, layered many times upon itself and hence distorted, urges motion.
This is not the sound of ‘These Systems Are Failing’, the new album from Moby; this is the sound of ‘Go’, the seminal 12” that brought the ex-punk-turned-techno musician to clubland’s attention twenty five years ago.
History is important. It usually contextualises an artists’s later moves. In Moby’s case, ‘Go’ provides no clue whatsoever to where he was going. Since then he's dabbled with ambient, thrash metal, sampleadelic trip-hop, pop, outlandish metal, funk, vegetarian restaurant ownership and, ever so occasionally, the dance music that got him his breaks. Nothing about his career makes much sense, and one wonders what kind of eclectic music-buying fan can truly get on board with so many stylistic switches. About the only consistent thing about Moby’s music is a tendency toward those looped synth pads, running through his music like some sort of heavenly chord. That and a tendency toward Morrissey-esque titles loaded with pathos.
And so, confused and slightly sceptical, we arrive at ‘These Systems Are Failing’; Moby is now decamped physically to LA - a place he once suggested, while talking to Adam Buxton, that was the debauched proof that earth itself is hell and that we’re all its condemned subjects - while his music is decamped to somewhere around 1983. For ‘These Systems Are Failing’ is more or less an authentic New Wave album, and actually very good.
For the most part, these are upbeat, energetic tracks buzzing with fuzzy guitars and period, luminous overblown synth hooks. Moby has always confessed a love of artists like Joy Division and New Order, and you can hear echoes of those Manc legends in tracks like ‘The Light Is Clear In My Eyes’, opener ‘Hey! Hey!’ and ‘A Simple Love’, while ‘Don't Leave Me’ adopts a funky, eclectic stance before going all Billy Idol on you. Elsewhere, you hear big, anthemic flourishes on the stand-out ‘Are You Lost In The World Like Me?’ that Simple Minds and Devo would recognise as having come out of their own prodigious New Waviness, while some of the negativity and aggression that coloured the likes of ‘Animal Rights’ (1995) bubbles up again angrily on tracks like ‘Erupt & Matter’ and the amphetamine thrash of ‘And It Hurts’.
As (further) reinventions go, ‘These Systems Are Failing’ is annoyingly remarkable, and enduring proof that only one person on earth knows how to make sense of the path that the erstwhile Richard Melville Hall has taken and is taking: Moby himself. Ever mutable, always evolving, never anything but relentlessly restless. As the song here says, perhaps he is lost in the world, but he's doing it in style.
Words: Mat Smith / @mjasmith
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