Saturday, July 16, 2011

And Then He Played Again . . . Moby's Play: The B-Sides

The Good: 2 music-packed discs, Great original music, Fun
The Bad: One quasi-weak track on the first album
The Basics: Moby continues his synthesizers-laden, vocally dissonant album Play with just shy of a dozen truly original, equally classic tracks.

It's a pretty rare thing when NPR (National Public Radio) plays an artist who currently has a Top 40 hit. Yet, last year, as I was driving home from Cleveland, I heard a hypnotic tune late at night on NPR outside Rochester, NY and I thought "That sounds like Moby." The d.j. that night came on when the songs were done and gave their title and album. One of them was the one I had heard and it was identified as "Whispering Wind" by Moby. "It's off Play The B-Sides." And then my quest began.

Play - The B-Sides is a two disc set of Moby's finest music. The first disc, Play (reviewed here!) is a modern classic. That's a term I don't throw around often. In the truest sense, Moby is making classical music, innovating in a way that Mozart or Chopin once did.

For the purposes of this review, it makes sense to focus on the exclusive album. Play - The B-Sides is a collection of eleven songs that Moby has included on the c.d. singles for various tracks from Play and apparently some unreleased tracks. According to the liner notes, these are SOME of the additional tracks on the c.d. singles. Bummer. If these are evidence of the quality of his back up material, then I'd love to hear the whole lot of them.

So, what is the point of Play - The B-Sides? It's a chance for those people who where blown away by Play to get some more. That's not to say that this companion album is simply a rehashing of the first. Far from it. In fact, Play - The B Sides works best when listened to immediately after Play. Why? Play - The B Sides has much the same flavor and style as the first album, but it progresses them beyond where Play ended. Allow me to explain.

"Flower," the first track on Play - The B-Sides is a repetitive-lyricked ditty much the same way that "Honey" or "Find My Baby" were. But, it's not the same. There's more of a flow to it, there's more of a progress to its sound. It's like the beginning tracks of Play were warm ups, while the first track of Play - The B Sides is ready already and it's off and going.

The whole album is like that. Fans of Play will find the same diverse instrumentals, the continuation of wonderful looping and the eerie produced vocals Moby did on Play. But here, there's a sense of evolution. So while Moby's other albums might go in different directions, Play - The B Sides is further down the tangent that Play began.

In fact, if anything, this second album is better arranged. Track to track, the flow is often more developed. On Play, I found the dance-track, techno mix "Machete" out of place. The B Sides has "Running" and it fits both its title and its place in the album. Coming over the melancholy instrumental "Flying Over the Dateline," "Running" resumes out auditory interest and wears the listener out, tiring them for the final track, "The Sun Never Stops Setting."

That last track is a gem that reminds me of the film "Legend." I'm not sure why yet, it just evokes images in my mind like pegasi and fantasy adventures. Go figure.

Say nothing else about Moby, but one must acknowledge that he has the very best titles for his songs. And they all fit. "Memory Gospel," for example, is a track that, like "My Weakness," seems to have words in the instrumentals. And it's appropriate. Perhaps The B-Sides is about what you hear in it, what you bring to it.

Simply put, Play - The B-Sides solves even the problems of Play; it lacks a distracting obvious techno song like "Machete" and focuses on doing what Moby does best. "Whispering Wind" remains an enigmatic anthem of haunting longing that rivals Moby's great songs "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?" and "Everloving."

And thankfully, this is a two album set. It deserves to be listened to as such. With that in mind, the extra tracks pull up the deficiency on Play, making this set a perfect album. And the perfect Moby experience.

In closing, some reviewers don't like Play - The B-Sides because it doesn't do what Moby did on Play, which most of those critics adored universally. I say that it's better this way; these tracks progress beyond Play, illustrating growth and movement. After all, we listened to Moby in the first place to get away from what was everywhere else, the "common," overdone, "thing" on the airwaves. Thank Moby for this continued gift.

And oh, no matter how highly I recommend Play - The B Sides, and I do ("Memory Gospel" alone is worth the price of admission, though I'm so glad to be able to hear "Whispering Wind" when I'm fully awake and "The Sun Never Stops Setting" every night before bed!), good luck finding this album. After I had enjoyed a friend's copy of Play long enough to realize I wanted Play - The B Sides in my permanent collection, it took six months before I could track down a mint copy of this gem. My recommendation: get Play - The B-Sides any way you can find it. It's that good.

For other creative albums, please check out my reviews of:
Opiate (EP) - Tool
God Shuffled His Feet - Crash Test Dummies
Yes, Virginia - The Dresden Dolls


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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