In spite of his inescapable shiny-faced earnestness, Moby has never been a man to be trusted. Just when you think you're getting a handle on him - as the first American to capitalise on the British rave boom, say - he'll delight in defying expectations and release a poor quality grunge album. A sharp and infuriating dilettante, he always seemed, but one who stumbled on a lucrative formula in 1999 with 'Play': crackling blues and gospel samples stapled to impeccably tasteful, quasi-symphonic house.
Where next, then? Back to his hardcore punk days with Flipper, perhaps? No chance. '18' reveals Moby to be less of a reckless experimenter, and more of a desperate man who flitted through genres searching for one that would make him the biggest bucks. For the follow-up to 'Play' is, essentially, 'Re-Play', a cynical rehash of the melancholic-yet-strangely-uplifting schtick which sold ten million albums and soundtracked every single advert of the last three years.
As the rusted samples begin by referencing the Lord on 'In This World' and 'In My Heart', even Moby's most dedicated listeners might feel a little cheated. It's still a neat trick, of course, but one whose potency has been dissipated by 'Play''s international ubiquity. Lovely tunes - now how about a new fridge? Curiously, this time it's the tracks where Moby sings which emerge as the most endearing. 'Signs Of Love' doesn't stray far from the grandiose, churchy template, but his slight, croaky vocals perversely give it more emotional resonance than a more superficially soulful performer might have done.
Then there's the single, 'We Are All Made Of Stars', an understated but superbly catchy deviation on Bowie's 'Heroes' which may just be the finest thing he's ever done. It's hardly adventurous, but it does prove that Moby's uncanny ear for memorable melody can be put to less predictable ends. And it also leaves you wondering if he still craves to mess with people's expectations of how he should sound, or whether his provocative online diary is a satisfying enough outlet for what always seemed like an unusually questing ego. If he's managed to annoy Eminem enough to be dissed on 'Without Me', he'd argue, he must be doing something right. But will he annoy Eminem more by making the same record, or a more adventurous one? As Moby's religious gurus might advise, let that be between him and his conscience.