MOBY, "HOTEL" (V2)
Once dubbed "the face of techno," Moby has been disappointing fans who've
been waiting for him to return to making "rave music" since long before his
spectacular cross-genre success with the multi-platinum "Play" (1999). In
one sense, his latest, a two-disc set, continues the drift away from
electronic dance music toward something that is probably best described as
"Moby pop": the beautiful, lilting, synthesized pop tunes that dominate the
first disc here. But the second CD is comprised of beautiful, lilting,
synthesized ambient music, which was also part of his oeuvre way back when
he was shaking the dance floor with "Go"; witness "Moby -- Ambient" (1993).
In other words, meet the new Moby; he's not all that different from the
Moby's last album, "18" (2002), was dismissed by some fans as an attempt
to remake "Play" -- "Replay," many called it -- which, while not entirely
false, also wasn't fair, since it boasted a number of memorable tunes. To
distinguish the pop half of "Hotel," the artist -- who once again plays most
of the instruments himself -- eschews the soulful samples of blues and
gospel field recordings that combined with his modern soundscapes to make
"Play" so distinctive, concentrating entirely on original material.
Much of the lyrical inspiration comes from two failed romances, while the
music starts with the pioneering electro sounds of bands like New Order (he
covers "Temptation"), the Cure and Depeche Mode. These same groups are being
aped by Moby's younger New York neighbors, including the Rapture and
Interpol, but he adds an almost classical elegance, as well as an unerring
way with a pop hook on tracks such as "Raining Again," "Beautiful," "Lift Me
Up" and "Spiders."
Yes, the reformed raver has slowed down considerably as he approaches age
40, staying with mid-tempo grooves when there's any rhythm at all. But Moby
has always been at his best when he's conjuring a mood, and nobody does
melancholia and smoldering passion better.
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, "LULLABIES TO PARALYZE" (INTERSCOPE) **
Josh Homme's riff-rock vanity project has always been more about a sound
than memorable songs. On the first two Queens of the Stone Age albums, the
outfit's self-titled debut (1998) and "Rated R" (2000), the post-Kyuss,
post-grunge, druggy desert grooves were still so fresh that the sound was
all we needed. By "Songs for the Deaf" (2002), the act was getting old, but
cameos by the likes of Nirvana's Dave Grohl, Screaming Trees' Mark Lanegan
and Rob Halford of Judas Priest carried the day, and the disc became the
group's breakthrough effort.
Since then, Homme has parted ways with longtime sidekick Nick Oliveri,
the only other constant in the Queens' ever-shifting lineup, but he hasn't
altered his formula much, and more than ever, "Lullabies to Paralyze,"
sounds like a collection of big fat guitar riffs desperately searching for
some decent tunes. Tracks such as "Medication," "Burn the Witch" and the
endless and appropriately titled dirge "Long Slow Goodbye" go nowhere fast.
If droning stoner rock is your thing, there are plenty of underground
groups churning out much better mind-melt, while if you're in search of
tuneful hard rock, only "Everybody Knows That You're Insane" comes close to
"Feel Good Hit of the Summer" from "Rated R," still the best bona fide song
the Queens have delivered.
THE MARS VOLTA, "FRANCES THE MUTE" (UNIVERSAL) **
While I freely cop to a misspent youth as a progressive-rock fan, I
always balanced my travels on topographic oceans with an equally deep love
of punk, and I liked my prog best when it was tuneful, moving quickly and
relatively free of pretensions -- or at least as free of pretensions as
17-minute science-fiction suites in 17/8 time could be.
On its second album, it's hard to tell whether the Mars Volta, leading
lights in the post-emo prog revival, is taking itself too seriously --
witness the Storm "Hipgnosis" Thorgersen artwork, the five (multi-part)
tracks in 75 minutes, the inscrutable concept/libretto and subtitles such as
"Facilis Descenus Averni," "Pisacis (Phra-Men-Ma)" and "Plant a Nail in the
Navel Stream" -- or whether key player Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and his mates
are having a good laugh at all.
Why should this matter? I suppose it doesn't; Spinal Tap wrote great
tunes, even if it was a joke -- and during the most frenzied,
hardest-hitting, insanely genre-hopping passages (I hesitate to use the word
"songs"), "Frances the Mute" works either way. Other patches are much
rougher, though, as when the band unsuccessfully reaches for "Bitches
Brew"-era Miles, Zappa-style virtuosity or some odd evocation of Yes playing
At times like these, I'd really rather listen to "2112" by Rush -- and
that's no joke.