MOBY, "HOTEL" (V2) ***1/2

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 old Moby.

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.

Jim DeRogatis



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.

Jim DeRogatis



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 salsa.

At times like these, I'd really rather listen to "2112" by Rush -- and that's no joke.

Jim DeRogatis