But following up is hard to do for anyone, and Moby is no exception. It isn't that 18, Moby's new album, is a huge disappointment, because it's not. But due to raised expectations, the flaws of 18 will not be forgiven like the flaws of Play were. Those who liked Play will likely enjoy 18, but its familiarity, and the lack of an uptempo number here or there, may also breed contempt.
Leadoff track and first single "We Are All Made of Stars" is familiar, but not to anything from Play. It's more like some lost New Wave classic, with the bouncy synth bass line and gliding guitar riff. It is also an aberration. Most of 18 sticks to the same recipe that Moby whipped up for Play; take gospel-tinged vocal, add it to minimalist beats and somber keyboards. "In This World" and "In My Heart," which use the same two main chords in the style of a mini-suite, definitely follow this pattern, with "In This World" taking the four-measure break before the last verse just like "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad" did on Play. Dare I say it, but Moby's production technique has gotten predictable. He also cloned the chords from "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad" for the new track "One of These Mornings".
The one stylistic change between Play and 18 is the noticeable R&B vibe throughout, especially on "Jam for the Ladies," featuring MC Lyte. "Another Woman" is another smoove slow jam with a nifty jazzy female vocal, and the appropriately named "The Rafters" is a gospel raver that I could imagine blaring out of a Georgia church on a Sunday morning. "Extreme Ways" is amusing for the chord sequence, which is way too similar to Bob Seger's "Turn The Page." The Sinead O'Connor vocal on "Harbour" is wasted on a bland song, and "Signs of Love" is this album's "Porcelain," for better and for worse. Actually, it's for the better, as it's one of the highlights of the album.
But therein lies the rub. 18 is a fine album. In fact, I believe many of these songs will hold up better than some of the better known songs on Play. But damn, did it have to be so much like Play? Granted, following up Play with something half as creative would have been a hell of a task, and to his credit Moby doesn't seem remotely concerned about the commercial performance of 18. But I wouldn't mind hearing from a hungry Moby with something to prove, again, next time around.