Richard Melville Hall—better known as the bald, dweeby laptop master Moby—has done a lot of weird stuff in his artistic career. He’s bounced around pretty much every genre you can think of, from minimalist electronica and sample-heavy pop to radio hits, rock, and hardcore punk. He scored a hit with Gwen Stefani, pissed off Eminem, and popped up on an especially awkward episode of MTV Cribs. As a recording artist, he’s spent most of his time in the limelight defying expectations, and for mainly that reason, he’s managed to drop off the face of the music scene in recent years.
His 1999 masterstroke, Play, was built almost entirely from leftfield samples—old blues chanting, warped spiritual moans, crackling strings—and it was a surprise smash, both with critics and advertising execs, who pilfered nearly all the album’s tracks to promote cars and deadweight blockbuster films. Then came a cycle of guest collaborations, live vocals, and unlikely fame. Since the early 2000s, Moby has been in hibernation mode, quietly churning out album after album. But each has simply failed to live up to the high standards he had set for himself.
Arriving after Hotel’s live instrument showcase and the high-energy dance textures of Last Night, Moby retreats into his own insular electronic cocoon with Destroyed, his 10th album. The template is synth-pad atmosphere and crackling beats, outfitted with the occasional vocal sample, guest appearance, or vocoder swirl. The tempos are most often moderate, and the arrangements sparse. It’s the sound of Play without the exoticism, density, or genre-meddling glee that made it feel so fresh. Which isn’t to say that Destroyed isn’t a lovely listen—Moby has an affinity for softness and patient texture. “Be the One” is little more than pulsing vocoder, repeating several melancholy refrains—a heartbroken robot stumbling upon a rave. The lush “Sevastopol” is propelled by feather-light strings that recall Play highlight “Porcelain.”
As much as Moby loves to play live instruments and sing, there’s little to be said for “The Right Thing,” a half-baked R&B number shrouded in wah-wah effects, or “After,” which sounds like Depeche Mode scoring a James Bond film. When Destroyed works best, it utilizes texture and builds upon it—it’s a dizzy, holographic dance club for suicidal wallflowers, one that blurs the line between what’s played, programmed, sequenced, or sampled. Guest vocals, guitars, lyrics—it all distracts from the one voice that truly matters: the one speaking sullen tongues in Moby’s head and laptop.