The Big Issue : Edition 442
34 THE BIG ISSUE 27 SEP -- 10 OCT 2013 IT'S FITTING THAT the album that made Moby a household name at the turn of the millennium was called Play. That's because the man born Richard Melville Hall (his stage name is a nod to a distant relation, Moby Dick author Herman Melville) approaches his work with a tinker-happy playfulness. Behold the pinging extremes of his discography, from instrumental serenity (Ambient in 1993) and brainy dance music (Everything is Wrong in 1995) to reactionary punk (Animal Rights in 1996) and old feld-recordings repurposed into radio hits (Play in 1999). Since Play and its equally pop-friendly 2002 follow-up 18, Moby has quietly made a run of albums that appeal more to his changing, specifc muses than maintaining commercial dominance (which felt like a fuke in the frst place). Hotel (2005) captured the requisite blankness of its titular dwellings, Last Night (2008) waxed nostalgic about classic New York City club culture, Wait for Me (2009) took a turn for the home-recorded and personal, and Destroyed (2011) sprang from insomnia and the grind of touring the planet for two decades. The themes may change from album to album, and the genre from song to song, but underscoring Moby's work is a purity that's hard to come by. The 2000 single 'Natural Blues' wasn't a breakthrough track just because it's instantly catchy -- sampling world-weary folk singer Vera Hall against increasingly lush dance-pop -- but because it's so naked and unguarded, so universal and innocent. Innocents is the name of Moby's latest album -- his 11th -- and, despite an impressive roll call of guest singers and lyricists, it feels incredibly intimate. It's wistful and sleepy, refecting more than projecting. In its wielding of vocal cameos and orchestral-hued arrangements, it values earnest expression over cynical reserve. "I'm a big fan of cynicism...in small doses," says Moby, "But [with] a lot of pop culture that's unrelentingly cynical or ironic, it makes me tired and sad." He recalls a dinner out with friends where everything uttered was either cynical or ironic. Feeling drained, he wanted to "go play with puppies" to compensate. The album title Innocents comes from his belief that all human beings -- no matter what their situation in life -- share a basic quality of innocence due to confronting the human condition. "Which is confusion," he says. "We get older, we lose people we care about, we recognise that the things we value ultimately go away. Regardless of our circumstances, these aspects are true for all of us." In his music, Moby turns that philosophical resignation into fragile emotional cues. Rather than fulfl the popular image of an electronic superstar using the most cutting-edge equipment, he built Innocents from broken and outdated equipment. He's not one to patch over life's hard truths with big-budget gloss. "The more honest someone is about their human experience, the more interesting it is," he observes. "I want to make albums that have a quality of vulnerability and fragility. Which I guess does stand in stark contrast to a lot of modern electronic music, which is very big and bombastic." Moby doesn't shy away from the bombast completely. That side of him comes through in his DJ sets, which have been more and more in demand on the global festival circuit since EDM (Electronic Dance Music) has crashed the mainstream in the US and elsewhere. He admits that it must be confusing for people if they see him spin techno records while jumping around on a festival stage and then buy one of his albums, which "do tend to be quiet and bucolic". But that's not to say the two sides can't inform each other. Working with an outside producer for the frst time with Innocents, Moby chose Mark 'Spike' Stent, famous for making massive commercial records for U2, Madonna and No Doubt. But Moby was more interested in his older work -- helming idiosyncratic electronic music for Massive Attack, Björk and The KLF -- and Stent was apparently happy to work on something that wasn't another "big pop record". As for the singers on the album, whom Moby has collectively dubbed 'The Innocents', they range from Flaming Lips eccentric Wayne Coyne and hangdog indie songwriters Mark Lanegan and Damien Jurado to London 'doom soul' singer Cold Specks and prolifc hip-hop collaborator Skylar Grey. He also reunites with Brooklyn singer Inyang Bassey, who appeared on Destroyed. The only guest he was unable to secure was UK singer/producer James Blake, who turned down the offer. "What I was looking for was a singer who has a really interesting voice but also a really melodic, beautiful voice," recounts Moby. “It’s very hard to fnd.” He has praised the angelic quality of Jurado's forlorn voice, and most of the collaborations harken back to a similar place of almost newborn tenderness. "I personally love the things that can help me get to that place," Moby says. When asked about the choral and cathedral-like feel of certain songs and the infuence of religion, he adds, "It doesn't have to be any sort of structured belief system. I can get that through music, through paying attention to nature, through meditation. These things that speak to the softer, more innocent parts of us. Musically, that's what I was trying to do." MOBY AIMS TO PROVIDE AN ANTIDOTE TO IRONY AND CYNICISM WITH HIS 11TH ALBUM.