"Animal Rights"

Sharps and Flats is a daily music review.

By Douglas Wolk
March 14, 1997 1:00AM (UTC)
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you can't claim that Moby is unwilling to take risks. Having made a name for himself as the techno hero with a face (a straight-edge Christian vegan techno hero, no less), the former Richard Hall is now turning his attention to rock -- a move anticipated by tracks like "All That I Need Is To Be Loved" on 1995's "Everything Is Wrong." But if you take risks, you also have to be willing to fall on your nose. Ambitious, cleverly produced, long-anticipated by his fans, "Animal Rights" finds Moby falling on his nose so hard it's a wonder the cartilage hasn't been driven into his brain. "Animal Rights" is a catastrophe on almost every level, a record so howlingly awful it suggests that he completely misses the point of, well, music involving electric guitars.

In fact, it's so bad it's instructive. Great rock is visceral, and its immediacy and power is what Moby is reaching for here. But even at its dopiest, great rock has a certain depth and ambiguity that's utterly absent from "Animal Rights" (so named because, duh, Moby wants us to know that he supports animal rights). Most of the album's first half is a noncomprehending stab at hard-core punk; though Moby was in an actual speed-metal band, the Vatican Commandos, way back when, these songs are weirdly sterile, devoid of surprises or real energy. Moby's voice is rangeless and characterless -- when he screams, you can't imagine he's breaking a sweat -- and what he uses it for is worse. "When you're fuckin' me it powers up my soul," he sings on "Heavy Flow," and the words don't get much better than that.


The centerpiece of "Animal Rights" is a cover of Mission of Burma's underground rock classic "That's When I Reach For My Revolver." The original is rich and complex, a gradual eruption of welled-up bitterness. Moby's version is just loud. He steamrollers over its subtleties and doesn't bother getting the trickier chords right. He also blows the words rather significantly. The last verse of M.O.B.'s version goes "Tonight the sky is empty/But that is nothing new/Its dead eyes look upon us/And they tell me we're nothing but slaves" -- a profound expression of religious doubt. Moby's version isn't just non-doubting, it's meaningless: "Now that the sky is empty/And that is nothing new/Instead they look upon us/When they tell me we're nothing but slaves" (actually, that last word could be "saved"). As Jimi Hendrix didn't sing, "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy."

That's followed by a 10-minute instrumental mantra, "Alone," which is a rather lovely retread of Moby's rather lovely signature instrumental mantra, "Go!" It only serves to throw into sharp relief the mind-boggling awfulness of the subsequent 10-minute lighter-waver-wannabe, "Face It." As its "climactic" guitar solo drags on for five Godforsaken minutes, it goes from unbearable to actively hilarious. Then there's "Living," which starts out as an inoffensive soundtrack-guitar-instrumental and gradually becomes a brainless plummet into "Hey Jude" territory. By the time "Animal Rights" ends, it has carved itself a place in the Mount Rushmore of rock 'n' roll misfires. Maybe somebody should try to convince Moby that guitars are actually made out of dead animals.

Douglas Wolk

Douglas Wolk is the author of the books "Reading Comics" and "James Brown's Live at the Apollo," and has contributed to a variety of periodicals, including The New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, and The Believer.

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