The Good: Intriguing, Excellent sound, Well mixed, Emotive
The Bad: Subjective, Capitalistic in presentation
The Basics: A wonderful creation that deserves several listens, Play is emotive, so be open-minded. A triumph for originality; a truly classic album.
Sometimes, when I rate something so high, but have more than one negative aspect to the work, I want to start right out by explaining it. I wrote "capitalistic in presentation" above and while I stand by it, it is not a fault of this c.d. per se. The idea of this complaint is that the music inspires spin-offs that become problematic and expensive. In this case, the perfect example is the single "Southside." The radio airplay on the Gwen Stefani mix of the Moby song "Southside" was in the high to very high range on Top 40 stations when I originally wrote the review. That might encourage one to buy the c.d, but those buyers would not find that mix on the album. The idea of mixing and remixing music like Moby does inspires far too much investment capital. . . .
. . . Especially if one finds something they like.
And I have. I am very impressed by Play by Moby, more so by the fact that I've unwittingly heard most of it already! Clips of the album appear on commercials ("Bodyrock"), The X-Files (the amazing "My Weakness"), and the radio ("Southside," even if it isn't the same mix).
Moby's Play is an impressive work and I'd like to explain it. I'm rating Play so highly and it bears noting that I'm not rating it on a completely different scale from my other ratings. Play is a work of art, but not in a flaky, hippie dippy way. It combines Moby's lyrics and music and samples from folk, and spiritual songs. Some years ago, the group Primitive Radio Gods put out a song called "Standing Outside a Broken Phonebooth With Money In My Hands" and if you ever heard it, you have the basics to understand the best of new techno. You have themes and emotions of old combined with poetry and music of new. What I'm calling new techno is, in its purest sense, classical music.
Music, in its most basic sense is a series of musical notes that either go up or down in pitch. All that separates one piece of music from another is the direction of the notes at any given time and the speed at which those notes move. This is an oversimplification equivalent to saying all that separates different books is the words. It is not entirely disanalogous, though. Popular music, especially, is notorious for not sounding different. It's hard to do something new in pop-rock. It's hard to have a sound that hasn't been heard before at some point.
And for that, we go back to classical music. Classical music is the defining standard of those notes and the directions they go in. If you want to hear something from which much else is derived, listen to some Chopin or Mozart, etc. One of the greatest compliments a musical artist may receive is to be evaluated as as original as a classical musician.
Moby's Play is one such example. He's painting something completely new. That he samples from other artists (Bessie Jones, Shining Light Gospel Choir, et al.) is incidental; he's painting something new with them. That is, like a visual artist, Moby uses clips of other music as a paint, a medium. It serves to become something entirely new. He is not simply reusing and remixing, he is recreating. He is creating.
Opening with the upbeat "Honey," Moby takes the listener on a wild ride that becomes more analogous to classical music. How? I don't think the album is a perfect album, but it's so close, I am able to understand part of the reason it's not a perfect album is because some of the songs fail to cause me to feel. That is, there's a simple basic emotional reaction lacking in some of the pieces. It's a relative thing; like classical music. The best classical music becomes something emotive and while a piece may be wonderful, it becomes so subjective that the listener must interface on an emotional level and failure to have an emotional reaction helps define it.
"Honey" and "Run On" have classical upbeat jazz/folk sounds and the new techno context works perfectly, creating catchy tunes that are intriguing and get the toes tapping. Literally. "Find My Baby" works as an excellent example of turning a small clip into something completely new. "Porcelain" and "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad" are two of the most heartwrenching, emotive tracks and simply wonderful songs in their own right. From "Porcelain" we get the lyric "In my dreams I'm dying all the time . . ." sung passionately and dissonantly. It works on so many levels. They might be the most unique songs put on an album in the last few years. They are amazing and passionate and it's impossible to listen to them and not have an emotional reaction.
We bring our own experiences to this album, our own impressions. Listening to "Inside," for instance may evoke images of a womb, lovemaking, blood, running, any number of things, wholly dependent on individual experiences.
The album often becomes about sound and emotion over pure lyrics. "Southside" for example, says very little in its lyrics. However, the sound is bigger, it's a powerful song, full of feeling.
Part of what keeps this album from being a perfect album is in its pandering to the dance genre of techno. The nightmarishly fast dance tune "Machete" invokes images of sweaty nightclubs with strobe lights. Not appealing in emotion or sound. At least, not to me.
Want something different? This album is it! From the essays in the lyric book (no lyrics, some of the essays actually are interesting, not all do I agree with) to the pure emotion of the album, this is something incredible.
A wonderful, emotive album! The strongest tracks are "My Weakness" and "Porcelain". The weak link is "Machete."
For other creative works, please check out my reviews of:
Fundamental- Pet Shop Boys
Then: The Early Years - They Might Be Giants
God Shuffled His Feet - Crash Test Dummies
For other music reviews, please check out my index page!
© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.