First, before we talk about anything else—like how we are one year shy of the 20th anniversary of Play, or what Moby means as a polarizing figure in contemporary popular music, the content of his new album, or its clumsy and moderately clichéd title—we need to talk about that cover art.
Jesus fucking Christ.
Every year, near the end of the year, music sites like Pitchfork, for a laugh, will create a list of the year’s ‘worst album covers.’ And I am confident that Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt will be on that list—and possibly near the top.
What is happening here? And why is it happening?
Folks, this is bad. From what I can tell, it has little, if anything, to do with the music found on the album this accompanies; it’s disconcerting and nightmarish to a degree; and above all—it’s laughable.
Like, how is anybody supposed to be like, “Oh, hey, Moby has a new album out? Maybe I should take a liste—OH FUCK WHAT THE FUCK IS UP WITH THIS COVER ART??!”
* * *
The expression, “Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt,” is taken from the bro intellectual canonical novel Slaughterhouse Five; here, Richard Melville Hall, the man we know as Moby, uses it as a way to juxtapose his contrasting feelings on the current state of the world—he’s upset and he wants to scream at everybody to ‘stop making terrible choices,’ but, at the same time, he’s trying to be compassionate and understanding.
For better or for worse, Moby has spent roughly the last decade making the music he’s wanted to, and he’s made it on his own terms.
That kind of structure and attitude toward his output began with his 2009 album, Wait For Me. He seemingly arrived at this decision following a lengthy stretch of albums that puzzled his audience—the near Xerox of Play, 2002’s 181, 2005’s Hotel—a maligned attempt at more commercial success through an electro-alternative rock sound, and 2008’s ‘love letter to dance music in New York,’ Last Night.
His latter day albums, like Wait For Me, and its sprawling follow up, Destroyed, were successfully executed, or at the very least, enjoyable and listenable, were because he was able to combine all of the things, from all the various genres and sounds, that he does best, and left little, if any, room for error or real missteps.
Arriving five years after the last ‘proper2’ Moby album, 2013’s Innocents, Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt finds the man slowly backing away from the structure he’d been working with to some degree of success, and favoring what, in interviews about the record, he is calling a more ‘trip-hop inspired’ approach and sound. However, if you’re expecting the second coming of Tricky, Massive Attack, or Portishead to be found on an album made by Moby in 2018 that has weird cow people on the front of it—you would be mistaken.
Well, if Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt is not trip-hop in the classic sense of the genre, then what is it?
Despite my best efforts, I’m having a hard time figuring that out—and that doesn’t bode well for the rest of this review.
Moby’s really done it all at this point, you know? While living in squalor in an abandoned warehouse, he found his way into the rave scene of the early 1990s, culminating with the 1995 release of Everything Is Wrong; he followed that up with the abrasive electro-punk aggressions of Animal Rights, a 180 that nearly killed his career. Three years later, he found unexpected and unprecedented success with the sample-heavy, commercially viable electronica of Play.
His constant shift in sound is admirable to say the least—nearly 30 years in, Moby is still willing to take risks (sometimes huge or confounding) with the hope that someone out there will still be listening.
Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt is not an inherently bad album, but it’s also not inherently good—it exists in some kind of purgatory where you’re wincing or scratching your head at times throughout a listen, but it’s not bad enough to say ‘fuck this’ and shut it off; there’s enough promise, or potential, somewhere deep down, to keep you listening.
I think the real thing that is plaguing this album is the lack of immediacy and urgency to these songs.
There’s no energy to them, and that makes for a difficult listen. And that has nothing to do with the tempo of the material—Moby can do slow burning and deliberately paced very well, and has a number of times throughout his career. So yes, the 12 tracks enclosed in Everything Was Beautiful are nearly all slow moving, but many of them just plod along with nothing special or noteworthy happening.
Despite that, there are small fragments, musically speaking, that work, or at the very least, are interesting. The somber piano chords and head nodding beat of “The Middle is Gone” is surprisingly enjoyable; and the sweeping grandeur of both “The Ceremony of Innocence” and “The Tired and The Hurt” are vaguely reminiscent of some of his earliest material from Everything is Wrong.
Throughout his career, Moby has worked with either vocal samples pulled from dusty old recordings, or guest vocalists; on occasion, he also sings. I feel like it’s worth mentioning at this point that, Moby is not, like, the world’s greatest singer—but the fact that he’s willing to step up to a microphone and record his voice to tape is commendable. I mean, I can’t sing at all. I can’t hold a note, I can’t carry a tune. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. The only singing I’m known to do is alone, in my car, and even then, I get a little self-conscious about other drivers seeing me belting something out.
So while Moby’s singing voice may not be the most impressive thing, it is, however, impressive that he’s willing to put himself out there like that.
With that being said, here Moby completely forgoes his usage of old, disembodied vocal samples, and alternates back and forth between smoky voiced chanteuses and his own voice—and I guess this is another misstep with this record. His voice has always been fragile sounding—that’s not the issue. The issue is that with this batch of songs, it, much like the music itself, is lacking energy and charisma.
There are also a few ponderous moments where it seems that Moby is on the verge or rapping, or at least, a strange kind of talk/singing, like the verses on the album’s first single, “Like A Motherless Child,” and “The Wild Darkness.”
* * *
What is the point of a new album by Moby in 2018?
It’s the kind of question you can ask yourself of nearly any artist that has arguably peaked, and continued to generate an output beyond that to possibly diminishing returns.
Moby has lived nearly a thousand lives before now; he’s struggled with sobriety, with spirituality, and with various levels of success. Even though Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt falls flat, he’s still making music on his own terms—that, much like his longevity and his willingness to put his own shaky voice out there, is commendable.
Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt isn’t a total misfire or completely unlistenable, but it lacks the amalgamative charm of some of his other, more recent efforts. For the long time fans who have stuck with him through his various shifts in sound and style, there is probably something here that will resonate with you; for the casual fan, or for the person who read this review and thought, ‘Whoa, Moby’s still around?,’ this gets a hard pass, and your time is better spent dusting off your old CD copy of Play.
1- I was in college when 18 came out, and I completely slept on it; in 2011, on a bit of a whim, I bought a copy of it at a used CD store, and fell in love with it. Yes, it is very similar to Play, but it also can hold its own.
2- I say ‘proper’ Moby album because I don’t count the ambient record he released for free on the internet, or the two politically charged electro-punk records he put out under the name Moby and The Pacific Void Choir.
Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt is available via Little Idiot/Mute.
Kevin Krein is a Minnesota based writer, and has been operating the award winning music blog Anhedonic Headphones since January 2013. For nearly as long, he’s been contributing to Bearded Gentlemen; and for nearly as long, he wrote “The Bearded Life” column for the Southern Minn Scene magazine. Since the summer of 2017, he began contributing “The Column of Disquiet” for The Next Ten Words. His writing has also appeared in The Wagazine, and in River Valley Woman. He is a vegan, a friend to all animals, and a huge jerk toward most people.