For his new album, Hotel, Moby entered into a cross-promotional campaign with W Hotels, an upscale hotel chain that will market the album and host a few unplugged performances. "It makes a lot of sense to have these events in the W Hotels, especially as the album is entitled Hotel," Moby said in one press release. The link between Hotel and a hotel company, it turns out, is not especially complicated.
None of this would bear much notice if the campaign didn't seem guided by more thought, care, and ambition than the music on the album. In the wake of 2002's 18, a lackluster fusion of his star-making gospel collages and doleful electro-troubadour ballads, Moby has scaled down to even more modest and muddled form. At Hotel's start, Moby fancies himself a glam-rock anthem-maker, crooning warmed-over David Bowie tributes in a voice that hardly supports them, and limping through lyrics like "I love you baby / I love you now." Moby's emotional nakedness becomes a figure big enough to share a stage with John Kerry, but his bland musical backdrops leave it all remarkably flat and affectless. Songs like "Lift Me Up" play like bad guitar rock, while more antic tracks like "Where You End" call on dance beats that sound grafted on as an afterthought.
Hotel holds out a few touching glimmers: the baked electronic dirge "I Like It" benefits from sexy, mysterious production and breathy vocals volleyed by Moby and Laura Dawn. And the drippy love song "Slipping Away" makes much of Moby's plain delivery, which lifts the track through a robust melodic hook that proves as strong as the sentiment is fleeting. The high points, however, are only high in the context of an album that orbits around "Temptation," a painfully slow cover that treats the New Order song to a throw-rug karaoke sit. It's all too typical of an album that finds Moby half-remembering ideas for songs that are hard not to forget.