The huge success of 1999’s Play has afforded Moby permanent artistic license, allowing him to be maddeningly unpredictable, to leap arbitrarily among genres (from ambient to hardcore), to proselytize, to be blissfully unconcerned with anything but his own agenda. Play, Moby’s fifth album, turned out to be an outlier in his career arc: an accessible mashup of then-current electronic dance music and Alan Lomax field recordings of early 20th-century gospel. Setting aside thorny questions of cultural appropriation, it’s a great record, still.
Without being a crass imitation, Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt, Moby’s 15th album, could be Play’s long-delayed successor. It’s not as fun or as catchy as that record, but the broad outlines come from a similar Play-book, with Moby’s talk/sung vocals amid coos and hums of female singers, and with allusions to gospel songs such as “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.” And the general tone is comfortably familiar: This is Moby’s downtempo trip-hop record, something that can fit on a playlist with Massive Attack, Portishead and lesser lights like Morcheeba.
Last year, Moby And The Void Pacific Choir released the self-descriptively titled More Fast Songs About The Apocalypse. Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt is full of slow songs about the apocalypse. It’s an inviting album (much more so than his electro-punk stuff with the Void Pacific Choir), but it’s bleak. Two songs crib from W.B. Yeats’ end-days poem “The Second Coming”; other pessimistic titles include “Welcome To Hard Times,” “The Sorrow Tree” and “A Dark Cloud Is Coming.” But this time out, Moby’s paired his dystopic vision of sin and spiritual decay with some of his most beautiful melodies; “The Ceremony Of Innocence” (one of the Yeats ones) is a patient, murmuring meditation.
Moby may have intended the album title to be ironic or idealistic, but it’s also a valid description of this set of songs in comparison to much of the rest of his recent discography.