Moby checks in with `Hotel'

New on CD

Music: In Concert, CDs

March 31, 2005|By Robert Hilburn | Robert Hilburn,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Hotel is billed as the first Moby album that doesn't contain any vocal samples.

Well, back to the drawing board.

Moby is many things: a true pop-music eclectic, a sonic wizard, a distinctive songwriter, a politically engaged activist, a bridge between the worlds of rock and electronic music.

But he's not much of a singer, and by making his detached, deadpan delivery the dominant voice on his new album, he leaves most of the songs as surface decorations, lacking the kind of emotional soul singing (sampled or not) that he applied to much of his earlier music. The four tracks fronted by R&B-rooted Laura Dawn illustrate the difference.

But maybe these songs aren't built for that treatment, and maybe they really are just surface decorations. Returning to the mainstream after last year's back-to-techno diversion Baby Monkey, the New Yorker has plowed all his resources into a collection of relentlessly catchy, hook-festooned rock songs. (Also in the package is a second disc of pure ambient music.)

The heavy influence of his neighbor and kindred spirit David Bowie pervades Hotel, particularly in the densely layered arrangements and swooning, soaring choruses. "Spiders," a hymn-like plea for the world's salvation, erupts into an anthem-like refrain straight out of "Heroes."

The irony is that even though the sound itself is more "natural" than on most of Moby's previous work, the essence feels less organic and more calculated. For all the sensual stimulation it provides, Hotel is too insistent on being liked, and it's sacrificed its heart to make that happen.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Moby

Hotel (V2)m**1/2

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