When it comes to waxing poetic about Moby and his often controversial, often remarkable and often embarrassingly bad back-catalog, I'm probably the least objective music journalist ever. In fact, let me just come out and say it: I never paid much attention to the guy at all until early 2000, when each one of the dozen-and-a-half tracks on Play, Moby's mainstream-breakthrough album of gospel, blues and techno fusion, were licensed to score television shows, commercials and film soundtracks by the dozens. The songs on Play, in fact, will probably always be cemented into my subconscious; during the album's heyday I was a clerk at a major bookstore chain, where it was a heavy in-store rotation selection for weeks.
But let's back up a bit. For those of you in need of a mini-electronica history lesson, it's essential to understand that Moby is the producer-slash-knob-twiddler who took techno out of its dark shadows and brought it into the light of the mainstream. Play, after all, wasn't embraced by millions of pop fans for no reason. Its songs had chord progressions, melodies and repeating choruses -- the same elements that make all pop music palatable. You might even say that Moby was to techno music as bands like Blink-182 and Yellowcard were to punk rock, although that would be selling Moby's talent and ambition short by a mile. It'd be simpler and more accurate to say that Moby had the presence of mind -- and the chutzpah -- to take a still relatively unknown phenomenon straight to the bank, which he's done tenfold since Play's success. And that's essentially why Hotel -- I'm sorry to say it -- simply isn't worth your money.
Hotel isn't a bad album, per se. In fact, quite the opposite: It's overall a fairly even mish-mash of ambient sounds, soul and house samples, and pleasing techno bits. Think of it this way: If Moby's last release, 18, wasn't quite as catchy as Play, Hotel, likewise, isn't quite as catchy as 18. Remember "We Are All Made of Stars," 18's so-so standout single? Hotel has one of those too: "Beautiful." Frankly, it's a bit of a snoozer, and a tiny bit embarrassing, too. Here's a question Moby might have asked himself: Is a successful formula really worth repeating if the original bar can't even be reached?
Nonetheless, a few songs here -- "Temptation" especially -- are phenomenal. And although its inclusion doesn't make a whole lot of sense, Hotel's second CD, with 11 tracks of lyric-free ambient sounds, is strikingly elegant. Moby's obligatory liner-note essay speaks of his fascination with anonymous public spaces (airports, office buildings, and of course, hotels); most likely this disc is meant to reference the numb sensation of those vacant and empty voids.
Who knows. But this much I do know: Hotel is collector's-only material, for sure.