Album: Moby

Hotel, MUTE
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The Independent Culture

Almost alone among his peers, Moby has been reluctant to restrict himself to the familiar tones and attitudes of synthesiser music. It's a route that brought him unforeseen global success, courtesy of the retro-nuevo house-blues crossovers of Play, and that finds perhaps its most tangential extension in Hotel, which features, he claims, no samplers at all.

Almost alone among his peers, Moby has been reluctant to restrict himself to the familiar tones and attitudes of synthesiser music. It's a route that brought him unforeseen global success, courtesy of the retro-nuevo house-blues crossovers of Play, and that finds perhaps its most tangential extension in Hotel, which features, he claims, no samplers at all.

Instead, Moby plays "proper" instruments - overdubbing all of them, save for a few real drum tracks furnished by Scott Frassetto - while sharing vocal duties with Laura Dawn on a handful of the songs. There's still a substantial complement of synths, notably in the string pads that shade tracks "Slipping Away" and a funereal-paced cover of New Order's "Temptation" with their air of epic yearning, but they're employed alongside scuzzy blues-guitar riffs ("Beautiful"), limpid electric-piano parts ("Temptation"), and even Moby's equivalent of a big piano power ballad ("Love Should"). The old-school symphonic techno of "Very", with its hustling drum programme and pulsing synths, is made to sound almost token in its isolation.

Hotel has a sort of melancholy optimism running through it like a fine, fragile thread. Rueful recollections of old relationships in "Where You End" are balanced by recommendations to hold on to hope and love in "Love Should" and "Forever". Likewise, on a larger, more political scale, the fretful reflections on fundamentalist polarisation in the mantra-like single "Lift Me Up" are tempered by the humanist collectivism of tracks such as "Beautiful" ("Look at us, we're beautiful/ All the people push and pull") and "Slipping Away", where Moby finds himself "Open to everything, happy and sad/ Seeing the good when it's all going bad".

But the fact that Moby has to rely on "imported" soul courtesy of various background session singers - just as with the blues samples of Play - hints at the main shortcoming of Hotel, which is his own seeming lack of emotion. The aloof coolness of his vocals, quite effective on "Lift Me Up", sounds phony at greater length, and once that spell is broken, it's hard to prevent an air of contrivance from seeping into things such as the breathy eroticism of the trip-hop piece "I Like It", and into his Bowie homage "Spiders", which lacks the visionary conviction of Bowie's best work.

Ironically, the closing "Homeward Angel" brings everything into perspective: there is more genuinely affecting emotion in the few carefully chosen chords of this Eno-esque instrumental than in the whole of the rest of the album. Moby may be odder than he seems: a musician who's more transparently sincere ensconced behind the barricade of his machines than out in the open.

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