by Joe Jamnitzky
Hey, remember that time Moby decided he was a rock musician as opposed to an electronic one? Yeah, most don’t either, and for the ones that do, a number of them wish they didn’t.
See, once upon a time, Moby was gaining recognition and some praise for his work in electronica, dance, and techno music, as well as for his remixes of songs by The B-52’s, Michael Jackson, and Pet Shop Boys. His 1995 album, Everything Is Wrong, was named Spin’s “Album of the Year”, and had garnered a bit of commercial success.
However, Moby was disillusioned. Despite critical praise and such, he never really got much positive feedback from a lot of the mainstream music media. They just didn’t get it, basically.
So, it was decided to change direction. What followed was Animal Rights, Moby’s foray into industrial/punk/rock, with ambient instrumentals also spread through the album. It would almost kill his career completely (and no, I am not joking).
According to Moby’s manager, the new direction was almost a complete disaster all the way around. The music media was still uninterested, his existing fanbase was alienated by it, and in general people became confused as to what kind of artist Moby was. All the work he spent establishing himself was pretty much wiped away, and he was pretty much viewed as a has-been. Probably the biggest blow was that, just as he changed direction, electronic music started to become popular in the mainstream thanks to artists such as The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy.
Bad luck, bad timing, bad idea…bad bad bad. If anything, the only good thing anybody had to say about it was “give him some credit for trying to diversify.”
Ok, so does this mean the album itself was bad?
Well, obviously that’s subjective. For me personally, I actually enjoy it. I’m sure you all realize by now, though, that I have weird tastes, but there are some pretty good aspects to this album.
First of all, like it was previously mentioned, Moby was trying to diversify, and that’s a hard thing to do for any artist. History is littered with examples, some successful, some not. Point being, he’s not the first, he won’t be the last, and at least he tried to do something.
Secondly, this album displayed that Moby has musical ability outside of his DJ skills. He played all the guitar, bass, and drum parts on the album; basically he played everything except for the violin parts on some of the ambient tracks. While the results aren’t anything stellar, they’re definitely more than competent. The guitar solos on two of the lengthier tracks, “Say It’s All Mine” and “Face It”, are played with feeling and emotion. “Face It”, in fact, may be the highlight of the album; at 10 minutes long, it manages to combine the ambient keyboard parts of the instrumentals on the album, the hard edge punk/industrial of the rest of the album, and culminate in a powerful, well-played solo for roughly 4 minutes of it’s track time, before ending the last 1 ½ minutes with just an ambient keyboard and the harder edged part of the song floating in and out of the background behind it.
That, however, also highlights one of the issues; Moby’s voice. Yes, it’s distinctive, and yes, there are worse singers out there. However, because so many of the songs are played fast and furious, and because of the style and nature of the music, he screams the lyrics more than sings, and he just does not have a good screaming voice; it’s just too thin. On top of that, it’s plastered with a TON of echo, almost too much, as if to attempt and cover up the weakness of it. It definitely makes for an odd listening experience, because no matter how angry or serious he tries to sound, it just doesn’t always work (the video below for “Come On Baby” is an example of both sides of the coin, the singing and screaming).
Then, there’s “that” cover.
The first single released from the album was a cover of the classic Mission of Burma track, “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver”. Given the Animal Rights treatment, it lacks the looseness of the original. More controversially, Moby re-recorded the song for MTV airplay, changing the chorus line to “that’s when I realize it’s over”. Many people were not happy about this. At all. (Personally, it was the first song I ever heard by Moby, and I loved it). It was yet another blow against both album and artist.
After everything was said and done, the album’s reception, both critical and commercial, would result in Moby almost quitting music completely. His follow-up album, Play, would struggle to find a label and wouldn’t be released until three years after Animal Rights, but, despite poor sales initially, would end up being his big breakthrough worldwide, achieving consistent sales on the basis of nine (!) hit singles, including the widely know “South Side” featuring Gwen Stefani.
He finally had the success and respect he had been trying to obtain, and has since been able to maintain it. In the process, he recorded what could be considered a classic failed album. Nothing else in his body of work sounds quite like it, for both better and worse.
But hey, at least he tried.