Moby’s music has always seemed to carry a note of the wistful, at times bordering on morose. Partly this may be due to his source material — he has, of course, made a name for himself by bringing gospel, blues, and soul into the realm of electronica. But even considering this, he is a man who seems to heft more than his fair share of the weight of the world. His liner notes contain essays against excessive consumption, and his lyrics often reflect on themes of loss and death. It seems a wonder that such a man has become one of the world’s most widely recognized makers of dance music.
Moby tends to capture a different theme in each his albums. Last Night was a ‘90s house throwback, 18 captured a bit of soul and grace, Play is self-explanatory, and so on, back to the early ‘90s. On Wait for Me, Moby has given his dark side full creative reign. Apparently, he was compelled to do so after hearing filmmaker David Lynch speaking on creativity, discussing, as Moby writes in his blog, “how creativity in and of itself, and without market pressures, is fine and good.” This, the product of his disregard for market demands, is a somber and monotone collection of ambient mope music — or as Moby describes it, “It’s a quieter and more melodic and more mournful and more personal record.”
Two tracks from the album have been released as singles so far: “Shot in the Back of the Head” followed by “Pail Horses.” Neither are getting the airplay that the hits from Play or 18 received, nor the club play where Moby garnered his initial success (though “Pale Horses” has had remix treatments by Apparat and Gui Boratto that seem promising). “Shot in the Back of the Head” is a compelling, cinematic song that uses slide guitar and what sounds like a harmonium looped in reverse to take you to that thoughtful place. “Pail Horses” is straight-up mournful as an unnamed, smoky bluesy singer tells a story of heartbreak. “Study War” is another album notable; it a smoothly swelling track built around a sample calling for the end of the study of war.
The tracks with vocals were all done with his local, no-name friends, because, as he puts it, he’s “found that working with friends is almost always nicer than working with rockstars.” This seems to be some trite disavowal of fame and success that we hear from some such “rockstars” after they’ve had their hits and licensed their songs off—as Moby did with every single track from Play. (And if they were really friends of his, might he not want to give them props so that they might actually be able to make some money at some point?)
This is an album to be put on and left in the background, clearly disregarding the changing shape of music sales and the 99-cent, one-track download. An entire, listenable album would be most welcome and refreshing, but the second half of Wait for Me is largely nondescript digital strings, organs, and humming voices that do little to inspire, though they are mellow indeed. Although Moby seems content to make a creative piece without regard to commercial success, anyone who was in New York in the spring of 2009 may have seen hints that his label had ambitions to the contrary in the form of the promotional posters for Wait for Me that were plastered everywhere from to Lincoln Center to Williamsburg. Unfortunately, his unleashed creativity didn’t inspire unforeseen greatness. It’s just more Moby, but without a kick drum.