Play by Moby


Studio Album #5 by this American electronica musician presents the most significant rags-to-riches tale of the electronic scene of the late-90s. Until today, Play has sold over 12 million copies worldwide, with its strengths lying not only in its numerous hit singles spawned uncharacteristically upto two years after its release, but also due to the licensing of all its tracks for use in films, television shows, commercials and the like. Selling out? You may call it that, but four poorly received efforts in, he had this one coming. I believe the phenomenon’s called karma, and it was fully deserved in this instance.


#1. Honey 3:27
#2. Find My Baby 3:58
#3. Porcelain 4:01
#4. Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? 4:23
#5. South Side 3:48
#6. Rushing 2:58
#7. Bodyrock 3:34
#8. Natural Blues 4:12
#9. Machete 3:36
#10. 7 1:00
#11. Run On 3:44
#12. Down Slow 1:32
#13. If Things Were Perfect 4:16
#14. Everloving 3:24
#15. Inside 4:46
#16. Guitar Flute & String 2:07
#17. The Sky Is Broken 4:16
#18. My Weakness 3:37


Moby: Turntables, Keyboards, Vocals, Guitar, Bass Guitar, Drums


Richard Melville Hall


17th May, 1999


Run On
Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?
Natural Blues
Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? / Honey (remix)
South Side
Find My Baby


Which is why I find the initial indifference to the record really difficult to fathom. Moby shipped the tracks to every major label – from Warner Bros. to Sony to RCA – only to have it rejected each time. After V2 finally did pick it up, his publicist then handed out the record to journalists who in turn collectively chimed out that they weren’t even going to give it the courtesy of a customary listen. Initial foreboding signs like these suggested that the album wasn’t going to do much better than predecessor Animal Rights from back in the fall of 1996 – a more eclectic, guitar fueled record that was a critical and commercial disaster.


The undergrounds weren’t appreciative leading upto the release either. 1999 saw Moby open for Soundgarden and have stage debris thrown at him every night, and almost a year later, opening for post-grunge act Bush on an MTV campus invasion tour would have proven to be even more degrading, with the audience expressing little to no interest in Moby’s ambient-electronica landscape. In between whiles, Play saw its first live performance in the basement of a Virgin Megastore outlet, as people were checking out. Nobody cared in that setting either.


So what changed? Beats me, for the way I hear it – it struck a chord with me the first time I gave it a run front to back, my bias to downtempo stuff not withstanding. Although it’s not really one of those “growers”, it is conventionally evocative every single play one can give it, pun intended and all that.


And that’s just me, a few days after that Bush show saw Moby depressed in a hotel room in Minnesota contemplating a return to school to pursue an architecture degree when he received a call from his manager: Play had reached #1 in the UK fueled by the success of single number five, Natural Blues (although the album itself had come out close to ten months ago). Then it climbed up to #1 in France, in Australia, and in Germany. You name it. And if you’ve figured out how and why, let me in on the lore too. Was voodoo involved?


The songs itself are friendly, moody and compliment the uplifting vibe of the scene at the time. A crisp opener in Honey leads to the acoustic and synth driven verses in Find My Baby, and further to the darker Porcelain at #3. The piano and all the associated keyboard samples that accompany its chunky melodies are scattered throughout the record, and care has been taken to not “spray” it and consequently relegate it as yet another redundant instrument in the overall formula.


Porcelain is certainly a beneficiary of this intricate routine, and so is Rushing a few tracks down. Whereas some other songs rely more on a beat-based rhythm – not the least Bodyrock and Natural Blues, both of which follow Rushing in quick succession.


The last quarter of the tracklisting sees a marked slowdown, with most of the final half-a-dozen songs reserved exclusively for instrumentals; Inside at #15 is a fairly good pick in this regard, but you’d do well to not quit listening after the hip-hop verses of If Things Were Perfect fades out. Yep, instrumentals – intentional or not, ain’t B-sides.


In hindsight thirteen years on, Play does seem like a magnificent peak in Moby’s career. And while some do dismiss the genre as glorified coffee shop music, I can’t particularly see a reason why folks won’t like this playing overhead everywhere – modern electronica is always soothing, groovy and relaxing. And the less the vocals in the genre, the better.





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