It's been a prolific few years for Moby: two fiery post-punk albums with the Void Pacific Choir, a well-received memoir, and now his latest solo effort, the elegiac Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt. It's also been almost 20 years since his breakthrough album, Play, which, despite the sorrow evoked by its haunting field recordings, had a thread of hope running through it. This thread seems lacking, or at least woven more deeply, on his new album. Twenty years is a long time. Could Moby write an album like that in 2018?
"The optimism… of that record was also the product of the fact that I was young and the world seemed a lot brighter," Moby tells Exclaim! "Bill Clinton was still our president, and it looked like Al Gore was going to be our next president, 9/11 hadn't happened, climate change seemed more like an academic idea that wasn't real, and antibiotics resistance wasn't something anybody was talking about. It seemed like Russia was moving closer to democracy, and everything seemed kind of okay."
This kind of context seems key to Moby's artistic output; certainly it's no coincidence that his rousing work with the Void Pacific Choir arrived in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. "Nowadays," he explains, "all evidence seems to point to the fact that we are not just at the precipice of an apocalypse, but we're like Wile E. Coyote standing on thin air waiting to fall." Time to invest in Acme Industries.
But are things really that dire? When asked about recent reports that the CIA asked him to badmouth Donald Trump on social media (as though his Twitter barbs weren't already stinging enough), Moby is blunt in his assessment. After brushing aside the reductionist right-wing spin the story was initially given (he wasn't approached or asked to do anything; he simply has friends in the intelligence community whom he talks with), Moby explains:
"Trump fully knows that the only thing that can save his presidency is a war, so he and his administration are doing everything in their power to find a war, because they look at what happened to George W. Bush. I mean, before 9/11 he had a failing presidency, after 9/11 he had a high approval rating — and people in the intelligence agencies are really concerned about that. There is a widespread belief in the intelligence agencies that Trump is, broadly speaking, a foreign agent, a controlled agent being run by a hostile foreign country."
When pressed as to whether or not he thinks Trump is really some kind of puppet president, Moby minces no words. "Yes. It's dark and dirty. And it's darker and dirtier than people have any idea, because it's financial — I mean there've been some really shady people around Trump who have been funding him and the people around him for a long time."
Despite this, Moby finds room for hope. Our list of moral and ethical failings may be long (most recently the upcoming repeal of net neutrality: "imagine a town that had perfectly clean drinking water; why in the world would you let some crappy private company take that over?"), but he finds solace and truth in Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous phrase: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice," adding, "I would expand upon that, and say that it also bends toward reason. It just sometimes takes us a long time."
This long view still leaves plenty of room for us to screw it up however. "We're an inch away from being catastrophically confronted with our actions," he predicts ominously, and later amusingly compares humanity to a crazed drug addict. "At some point the drug addict is confronted with the consequences of their actions… [and] the worst case scenario is that they try to get clean and healthy and sober, but the cumulative effect of their actions ends up killing them anyway. So, as a species it's very possible that 20 years from now, we as humans will fully see how stupid we've been, but it'll kill us anyway."
No doubt, many hope the last couple of years have been the result of some kind of mass-induced hallucinogen affecting our consciousness; reality can sometimes be a buzzkill. In the meantime, Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt is a great album to nurse the hangover, a morning-after missive to remind us that things were good once, and can be again, despite our failings.
Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt comes out March 2 on Arts & Crafts.