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Moby - All Visible Objects Music Album Reviews

Richard Melville Hall is back to doing what he does best: making soaring electronic music for billboard-sized emotions. Introspection? Not so much.

All Visible Objects is the first we’ve heard from Moby since the publication of Then It Fell Apart, his second memoir, in 2019. An extension of his first, 2016’s Porcelain, which recounted his rise to fame in New York’s rave scene in the 1990s, Then It Fell Apart walks us through the debauched decade after Play, providing all the dirty details: mind-blowing amounts of vodka, ecstasy, and cocaine; threesomes, foursomes, and failed relationships; dinner with Bowie and beef with Eminem; penthouse palaces and suicidal ideation. Through flashbacks to his childhood, Moby also considers the roots of his malaise in his poverty-stricken upbringing as a compulsive masturbator and sanctimonious Christian prone to colossal panic attacks.

In one chapter, Moby recounts dating a young Natalie Portman after meeting her backstage in 1999; then 33, he visited her at Harvard and stayed over in her dorm. Portman’s recollection, however, was of “a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school,” as she told Harper’s Bazaar last May. She wasn’t 20 at the time, as Moby had claimed, but had only just turned 18. At first, Moby doubled down, sharing what he called “photo evidence” of their “brief, innocent, and consensual romantic involvement.” A few days later he apologized, canceled his UK book tour, and announced, “I’m going to go away for a while.”
That sentence, “I’m going to go away for a while,” should probably have finished with the words, “to think about what I’ve done.” Yet on All Visible Objects, rather than take the opportunity to reflect, Moby seems to elide his own existence, choosing instead to wrap himself in the flags of his chosen causes and habitual musical modes. Nine of the 11 tracks are variations on a theme of rave euphoria, including several anthemic techno cuts aimed squarely at the dancefloor, and the remaining two are slow-moving instrumentals. As with all his recent albums, Moby has said that the profits from All Visible Objects will go to 11 charities for animal and human rights, which is commendable. His sobriety, spirituality, and emotional stability may have wavered over the years, but he remains militant about animal rights—the phrase is now tattooed down his arms, with “VEGAN FOR LIFE” on his neck for good measure.

But Moby the man is practically absent from this project. His voice, usually delivered as a barked monotone or barely-there whisper, appears on only two songs. One is “Forever,” a dreamy spin on laser-show EDM, where it’s processed beyond recognition, saying: “This is the way we’ll stay, forever.” The other is a mournful deep-house yarn called “One Last Time.” The lyrics are vague but plaintive: “This was how we have cried in the darkness/This is where you will save us all.” For a man who’s already pried open his broken spirit for public inspection, all this seems like a missed opportunity. Give us the gory details?

Instead, Moby pushes his guest vocalists to the front. Dead Kennedys drummer DH Peligro takes the podium on “Power Is Taken,” a ’90s throwback modelled on the rave poetics of Faithless. “We who hate oppression must fight against the oppressors,” goes his generic command. “Power is not shared, power is taken.” In contrast, hearing Linton Kwesi Johnson on “Refuge” is a literary jolt—and, given LKJ’s stature and gravitas, quite the coup for Moby, even with his back catalogue of celebrity collaborators. The Jamaican dub poet’s single sentence, repeated over stabbing techno, isn’t a call to arms but a tight knot to unravel: “To us who were of necessary birth, for the earth’s hard and thankless toil, silence has no meaning.”

L.A. singer Apollo Jane and Moby’s live collaborator Mindy Jones take the rest, including a windswept cover of Roxy Music’s “My Only Love,” which swaps the original’s fleeting grooves for a heavy drenching of pads, strings, and piano. Does he lay it on thick? Absolutely. But it’s too late to begrudge Moby for doing what he does best: soaring electronic music for billboard-sized emotions. The longest track of all is “Too Much Change,” a highly strung epic which winds between jazzy ambient and dusty tribal house for almost 10 minutes.

These songs tend towards fuzzy sentiments—the words “love,” “life,” “light,” and “feel” are staples. Many of the musical ideas—tinkling pianos, plasticky strings and emotion-squeezing chord progression—have been part of Moby’s toolkit since the word “Go.” These are his trademarks, and he’s entitled to them. There are none of the misfires that tainted his mid-’10s records, like the syrupy collaborations on 2013’s Innocents. He’s on home turf. The problem is that All Visible Objects sounds like just another Moby album, as if nothing of interest has happened recently, as if his music has nothing really to do with Moby the man—the awkward, panic-stricken, validation-seeking, binge-drinking superstar DJ we now know almost everything about. He’s published 900 pages about his struggles and ostensible redemption, and the punchiest lyric on his new album is about “oppressors”? You’ve got 99 problems, Moby—but as a rich, white home-flipping L.A. restaurant owner, “the Man” ain’t one.
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