If you know that terrible feeling that many people had in November of 2016, and the tremendous gnashing of teeth and wailing at the mouth that happened in 2017, then you are familiar with what happened next: exhaustion. And if you understand these feelings, then you know exactly where Moby was at when he recorded his 15th studio album, Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt.
Whether you felt those same emotions or not, the question for music fans is whether those experiences can make for good music… or not. To decipher this newest album, we should consider his other two post-Obama efforts. On 2016’s These Systems are Failing, Moby embraces his punk side. The album is coursing with anger, and he expresses his feelings about the world thusly: “These systems are falling. Let them fail. Change or die.” He is accompanied by a chorus he calls The Void Pacific Choir. The Void returned on his 2017 opus, More Fast Songs About the Apocalypse, where Moby leaned even harder into a rock-punk edge. He sings about the presidential election and his hatred of Donald Trump and his heartbreak and anger. The songs generally fail to live up to the emotion behind them.
Fast forward to 2018’s Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt. The title of the album is a reference Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, the words Billy Pilgrim uses to explain to his daughter what it was like to be in the war. The comment is, of course, a bleak satire. So that was Moby’s mindset for this album.
The most noticeable change here is that Moby has returned to the electronic sound that made him famous. The sounds are lush and distressing, and Moby’s mood is definitely sad. The melancholy sometimes rises to something approximating beauty. The tracks “A Dark Cloud Is Coming”, “Welcome To Hard Times”, and “The Last of Goodbyes” will certainly sate the most hardcore Moby fans.
The gospel choir is back for another go-round, but this time it feels trite, like a Saturday Night Live sketch about what a Moby album sounds like. Although the songs are generally well-constructed, there is still a sense that Moby is simply out of energy, like many protesters after two straight years of constant battles. The album is not necessarily one for people who are battling depression. Rather than acting as a balm, the album can actually induce despair if you listen to it straight through.
Then there is Moby’s curious use of the song “Like A Motherless Child,” where he repurposes the refrain from an old spiritual which goes back to the days of slavery in America. Although he seems authentic, it’s a bit incongruous to have a millionaire white musician using this particular song.
If you like Moby, then you will like this album. Although it doesn’t live up to the levels Moby reached in his critical and commercial prime, it hits enough of the desolation-electronica notes that his fans love to make it worthy of their time. For everyone else, your mileage may vary according to your exhaustion.