By Mark Guarino
Moby, meet Moby. The new album from the DJ-turned-media savant is an intentional step removed from “Play” (V2), his 1999 international smash. The Moby of that time period made DJ collage techniques accessible to the soccer mom set, filtering world music samples into sensual and poppy songs that became inescapable in daily life through their relentless placement in commercials, films, TV shows and the piped-in music at your neighborhood mall.
“Hotel” (V2) is entirely sample free and a transformation of Moby from strictly a bedroom auteur to relying only on live instruments. Taking a cue from conventional singer-songwriters, he is writing songs first rather than trolling for inspiration from outside sources and constructing songs from there. Playing the role of a frontman is a role he’s played before, but mostly during tours where, faced with the befuddling task of recreating the album using live instruments and forced to sing, he became the public face of music meant to be faceless.
The renewed Moby is more comfortable with baring all on “Hotel,” a more effective album than “18” (V2), his album from two years back. If “Play” was aimed for dance floor nirvana, “Hotel” is strictly for the after party cool down. A post midnight mood is draped over most of these songs, most ballads using piano, simple click beats and shimming synthesizers. Moby is responsible for all the instruments except drums, but he is smart to rely on singer Laura Dawn. Her vocals become the album centerpiece. She brings mystery, fragility and beauty to songs where Moby can’t. They include a sparse cover of the New Order song “Temptation” to “Dream About Me,” a bittersweet duet to the insistent techno of “Very.”
Moby’s programming skills trump his vocals, which are emotionally flat. His mellow voice disappears inside the sumptuous mood of his electronic ballads. The few rock songs, however, provide the only contrast. “Sadness like water/raining down,” he sings repeatedly over the stomping beat and slide guitar whine of ‘Raining Again,” while on “Lift Me Up,” he delivers what is probably his first arena rocker with a chorus begging for spiritual enlightenment.
The narcotic vocals work best on “Beautiful,” sung from the perspective of the tabloid taste of the month. With a chorus of sleazy guitar riffs and whooshing synthesizers, Moby gives narcissism grandeur, singing “look at us we’re beautiful/all the people push and pull but/they’ll never get inside/we’ve got too much to hide.”
An accompanying disc completes the chillout mood with 11 songs of pure instrumental ambience. They might not be needed, as half of “Hotel” is so icy slick, there is the very real possibility of frostbite.