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Play *
Play *
(V2 Records)
released 06/01/1999

  Audio Video
  Disc 1

01.  Honey

02.  Find My Baby
Find My Baby  

03.  Porcelain

04.  Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?
Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?  

05.  South Side
South Side

06.  Rushing

07.  Bodyrock

08.  Natural Blues
Natural Blues

09.  Machete

10.  7

11.  Run On
Run On

12.  Down Slow
Down Slow  

13.  If Things Were Perfect
If Things Were Perfect  

14.  Everloving

15.  Inside

16.  Guitar Flute & String
Guitar Flute & String  

17.  Sky Is Broken, The
Sky Is Broken, The  

18.  My Weakness
My Weakness  

Mini Disc available on Mute (172)[501602561172]. NOTES: Personnel: Moby (vocals, various instruments, samples); Pilar Basso, Reggie Matthews, The Shining Light Gospel Choir (vocals). Includes liner notes by Moby. PLAY was nominated for the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Performance. "Bodyrock" was nominated for the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. "Natural Blues" was nominated for the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording. A marked departure from the sound of his groundbreaking EVERYTHING IS WRONG and his subsequent hard-edged output, PLAY finds Moby charting new territory. Abandoning the breakneck drive of techno punk for looser, groovier structures entrenched in dance-oriented hip-hop brings a whole new feeling to Moby's vast and varied sonic canvas. Several songs, including the hit single "Honey," are distinguished by the appearance of early American field recordings, looped bits of African American spirituals and folk songs culled from the Alan Lomax catalogue. Moby's penchant for complex composition is in evidence here, as layer after layer of keyboard ornamentation, percussive effects, guitar, vocals (Moby sings and also plays all the instruments), and pulsing, echoing beats create a rich, deeply textured tapestry. PLAY shows that Moby's sophisticated sense of sound collage hasn't dulled, and the combination of these wide-ranging sonic experiments with unique historical samples and rootsier, more accessible beats indicates his ever-changing vision as an artist.

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Life's only constant is constant change -- a dorky truism to be sure, but also one which happens to apply perfectly to Moby. From trance and techno to ambient to alt-rock to gospel (well, sort of), there aren't many genres in modern music the kid hasn't tried. You have to hand it to him for reaching across the spectrum. Moby doesn't know how to rest on his laurels, so even when he's preachy or the music doesn't hit it, overall he's rarely boring. And you have to admit that he's an artist with remarkable integrity, because, unlike a lot of musicians who make the claim, Moby actually does use his music to explore his world. Whatever he's into, whether it's homespun Christianity, veganism, techno-futurism, or plain old romance, it's gonna be at the center of his work, and not just in the form of essays in liner notes.

With all this in mind, it's easy to cut Moby some slack even when he's not quite on-point (Animal Rights anyone?). When he is, it's enough to make any musician with a shred of ambition green with envy. Note to anyone with remotely jealous tendencies: stay as far away from Play as you can, because this LP may be Moby's most polished and musically well-rounded work to date, both conceptually and sonically. It's a well-thought-out, catchy, and complex body-rocker of a record from beginning to end, with only one or two minor missteps.

The selection of folk, blues, and spiritual field recordings sampled throughout Play are not only its sonic underpinning, but they also nicely parallel Moby's earnest, hands-on (you could almost say craftsman-like) approach to his music. Wisely, he avoids the cloying pity and repetitiveness of Gavin Briars' ""Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet"": it's apparent from the slamming first track ""Honey"" that Moby's not trying cutely to juxtapose a ""na�ve"" form with a sophisticated one, he's entering into a conversation with fellow soul-searchers and love slaves. He just happens to come from a totally different world. Happily, he's also a whiz as a sampler (news to no one), so the sounds in songs like ""Honey,"" ""Find My Baby,"" ""Natural Blues,"" and ""Run On"" work both as ingredients in a sonic collage and stay totally recognizable at the same time (Ahem, no mean feat: Puff Daddy). They make you want to dance, and for once with Moby's electronic stuff, the songs are downtempo enough that you can rock the thing all the way through without fearing a heart attack.

Despite all the blues and gospel additions, Play has a lot of other influences and techniques going on that round it out and keep it from feeling too much like a bookendy concept album one-off. ""Porcelain"" is a lush little snippet which sounds like a basement tape from a Magnetic Fields EP. ""South Side"" combines Moby's atonal vocals with percussion that has a whiff of Chicago go-go (appropriate given the song's title). Count the minutes before ""Rushing"" gets snapped up for some high-budget luxury car commercial (I swear, this is not an insult: it's a beautiful song). And ""Bodyrock"" handles the current jones for old-school hip-hop without ever once being kitschy. The only tracks that aren't pure gold are the New Wave-meets-trance ""Machete,"" ""Guitar Flute & String,"" (which might sound more at home on a Dan Fogelberg LP), and the somewhat thin (basically a guitar solo) ,""7."" But hey -- nobody's perfect.

Frankly, given that this is the same kid who remixed the James Bond theme and worked with artists as diverse as Jon Spencer, Metallica, and Brian Eno, it's enough to make you wonder if the wheel of karma is handing out an early payoff to the world's most famous vegan. Get this record.

-Alexandra Marshall   February 23, 2001

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