If Moby was in a state of reflection earlier this year when he published Porcelain — a frank memoir of self-discovery, substance abuse, and his role in the early ’90s electronic music scene — his mood seems now to be one of urgent panic for our present and beyond. These Systems Are Failing is a fiery eulogy for the future, an album that pulls sonic motifs from the iconic artist’s past to wail angry proclamations about what is likely to come.
Those that first found Moby with 1999’s Play — a masterful tapestry of Delta blues vocal samples paired with downbeat, melodious electronica — may not know that three years earlier, he released Animal Rights, a punk rock album. Rightly viewed as a drastic style shift from his earlier work, Animal Rights was in many ways a “fuck you” to an industry that Moby felt was unwilling to accept the legitimacy of electronic music. With These Systems Are Failing, Moby has again issued a “fuck you,” but in this case it’s society at large that has earned his ire. The nine songs that make up the record, which he created himself but released under the moniker Moby & the Void Pacific Choir (a D.H. Lawrence reference), are distinctly ’80s flavored, a series of upbeat and angry songs with few surprises and lots of fervor.
Opener “Hey Hey” for a moment masquerades as something A-ha might’ve pegged as a “Take on Me” B-side before erupting into a guitar-driven cry to stay true to your dreams. “Break Doubt” has the qualities of a synth-fueled haunted house, dark and cavernous, as Moby beckons, “Repeat after me/ I will never die.” Most of the lyrics are far less optimistic, but in keeping with a punk tradition, the lyrics are secondary characters to an overarching atmosphere of apocalyptic disillusion.
An activist from the get-go, Moby’s true target in These Systems Are Failing remains somewhat vague. As a vegan, a “tolerant Christian”, and an environmentalist, it is that last platform that most likely inspired this record. In a teaser video released in advance of the record, Moby warns that we’re “still acting as our ancestors acted, grasping for food, destroying nature, killing animals, killing each other, maintaining systems that haven’t worked in a long time.”
His response appears to be a turn from his quieter, ponderous standard into something fast and aggressive. “Erupt and Matter” is a surge of energy, bolstered by tribal percussion and an ardent chant to the powers that be: “We don’t trust you anymore.” Another standout, “Are You Lost in the World Like Me” may be his most stirring track since “Extreme Ways” from 2002’s 18.
Taken individually, the tracks from These Systems Are Failing are refreshingly vibrant for the 51-year-old Moby, who, even after 12 studio albums and countless other releases under his belt, continues to reinvent himself. Earlier this year, Moby created a soundtrack to accompany his memoir, a career-spanning two-disc effort that itself covered a wide terrain of evolution in his sound. Now, with his latest offering, he’s made something that would have no place on it. This album may reach backwards in time for its musical touchstones, but it is something wholly new.
Perhaps this is the result of watching too much Rick and Morty, but it does feel as though there’s a Moby for every possible outcome in the multiverse. There are Moby songs for cold, gloomy galaxies, and Moby songs for vibrant, sunny utopias. Sadly, the dire concerns for the longevity of the planet expressed on These Systems Are Failing clearly marks this latest record as the one perhaps most specially tailored for our own reality. “Keep me from fear, keep me from doubt,” he sings on “A Simple Love”. “Keep me from dying with the things I live without/ Just give me kindness, a lift from above/ Just give me hope, a simple love.”
It seems unlikely that a simple love could cure everything that ails Moby. His woes have always rested somewhere more complex, forever entwined with the big and pressing issues of the planet he occupies. He may not ever get the peace he pines for, but the sounds of his longing remain a welcome consolation.
Essential Tracks: “Are You Lost in the World Like Me”, “A Simple Love”