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music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Play

Artist: Moby
Genre: Rock/Pop, Techno/Electronica
Release Date: June 1999
Note(s): 1999 Grammy Nominated Artist

Review by LarryG
3½ stars out of 4

The freshest sound of 1999 was samples from blues songs from more than forty years ago. The key was that Moby knew what to do with them, brilliantly taking pieces of Alan Lomax' recordings of little known blues performers, which are collected on the box set Sounds of the South, and expertly mixing them with state of the art beats. The effect is extraordinary. Honey starts with a piece of a Bessie Jones song, which is a vibrant recording. Moby doesn't bury the original in excessive electronics but he also isn't afraid of putting his distinctive mark on it. The fit is remarkably comfortable. The energy of the original recording is paralleled and accentuated by the added rhythm. Jones' singing, with a chorus clapping and responding "sometimes", is the real thing. Moby doesn't make it sound less authentic, just a little more accessible to modern ears. Natural Blues uses Vera Hall's moving Trouble So Hard . The music seems a little shallow compared to the vocals but that's mainly because the singing is so spiritual. Moby also does a good job of matching his music to a blues sample on Find My Baby. The original, Joe Lee's Rock by Boy Blue, has a good, gritty, down and dirty feel. Moby adds a good, tough beat and, eventually, edgy keyboards and guitar. Even beyond the old blues samples, Moby repeatedly finds great source material. Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? takes a great soulful vocal and adds a good, undistracting beat and piano.

The vivid feeling of the songs with blues samples informs the songs Moby does without them. They have the same great match of vocals and music. Porcelain has haunting, elegant keyboards that match Moby's spooky, electronically altered vocals to a stark, stirring effect as a pained sampled voice cries out. Moby also does his own vocals on South Side and his music creates the drama of a great 70's R&B song.

Listening to Play is more than just a thoughtful, academic exercise. Play is a great, varied dance record. It's a joy to listen to. Bodyrock, with Moby's funky guitar and a nonstop beat, is a very fun dance song based on a fairly mindless rap sample. Machete has a good modern, metallic groove with changing effects that keep things interesting. Run On has an enjoyably cartoonish feel, taking a sample of a gospel song and adding piano, beats and audio effects. Like many of the songs on Play, Run On has a very good video. It shows, in reverse order, Moby working in a cold, sterile office, dying and going to heaven and working in a similar but much nicer office as a guardian angel.

The last third of Play is mostly Moby's atmospheric instrumental creations. While they're interesting they can't help falling short of the songs with the blues samples. It wouldn't have been the worse idea for Moby to have ended Play with its 11th song, Run On. As for the argument that Moby doesn't deserve much credit since much of the appeal of the songs with samples comes from the original songs, Moby deserves credit just for finding and using the little known music. No one else had the idea of using them. More importantly, he presents the samples in a way that respects the original while adding a unique personality and making them attractive to a new generation. Play is a great record with some of the smartest, most exciting sounds of 1999.

Review by Chatterbox
3 stars out of 4

I sure go back and forth with this one. I've had it since it was new. I bought it because it was hyped by some as the album of the year. I listened to it again all the way through last night with the lights out & no distractions because I'm trying to decide if I really like it or am I being tricked into liking some simple loops that are a joke put together by Moby to show the world...hey look you'll buy anything. Even the biggest fan of the album would have to admit it's a really simple concept. Maybe it's as cheesy & phony as the Backstreet Boys & he's not even real....just a character..he is the only techno artist that has a face..maybe the record companies have given him this huge persona showing how he's really religious & a total vegan & this great symbol of peace & all that just to get the hype going but maybe he's just a computer nerd who isn't such a good guy (remember ..turns out Vanilla Ice wasn't from any gangs & wasn't a pro motorcycle racer like he told the press when he came out...the producers make em out to have some image just like the way they invent the stars of the WWF ).... who's he mostly selling to? Ecstasy fried dance fiends that have the illusion they are expanding their mind seem to like him.... I should have taken some notes so I could have written something more direct & used better examples ....I don't know a lot about him.. I know he does play some instruments & does do some vocals but mostly everything is just samples of other peoples stuff & drum machines but he does give a different feeling to each sound with effects & placement. I give him a huge amount of credit as a producer and engineer but I have a hard time calling him a musician...he plays effects more than instruments but he does still really have an understanding of music. I guess the thing I like most is just that...that digital ambiance he creates...he gives you a world where nothing is real...but he passes it off as real. Like in one song when you listen closely he plays with the reverb in a fun way. You know he recorded the vocals standing in a little room totally dead of any reflections but he adds a reverb that makes it sound like he's walking in circles around a 12 x 12 concrete room with a slightly wet floor (here's where I wish I woulda noted which song that was). You hear the reflections of his voice constantly changing as he simulates what it would sound like if you the listener were in the room with him & heard the reflection from a flat wall & then a corner & then towards you & round & round again. He intentionally uses familiar sounds out of context to move you & that's interesting to a point. One song starts out with a sampled sound of a basketball bounce & a sample of what sounds like a glass marble dropping to a hard table instead of using a bass & a snare drum... it carries the rhythm through the whole song like drums in a real band would. I actually think the loops last to long.... ok we get the point make the song shorter or change something. All the songs are layered for the average simple certainly isn't a challenge to listen to but it's still fun to hear the intentional soundscapes. Here's a drum sound & it repeats over & over...then a repeating vocal then another drum..just adding & adding sounds & then taking away & then ending...every song is layered so the average idiot doesn't miss anything...kinda like in bad movies when they have to explain something to the audience instead of letting us get it on our own. (in music is this a genius master plan or is this "how to listen to music structure for morons") The 1st song "Honey" starts with some sampled old record (with crackles left in). Where he found it I dunno.. I'd guess it was some old black Louisiana bluesman from the 30's. The original guy who sang it (of course dead with no knowledge of what's been done to his music) did do a great performance but what right does Moby have to make it his? (one of the things eating at me the most). So he sampled the vocals & plays them syncro'd up with a big techno back beat. In that song he does do a good job of making the modern sound blend with the old singer to make it sound like it was all recorded together in the same room & for that experiment it worked. Other songs he'll break the rules & make each sound, sample or instrument intentionally each sound like they don't belong together & that messes with you a bit. Live (with a real band) it's just natural that everyone on stage just goes together & fits in it's own place as you in the audience hear which direction each sound is coming from. You really need to understand how music is recorded to be able to really "listen" to it. On every good studio recording each instrument is recorded in an isolated room so that they don't get any mike bleeding & then the engineer adds effects, reverbs & pans left or right for it's placement in the mix that bring everything together to make it sound as close as possible to the band playing in the room with you...when the drummer goes through his toms you'll hear them left to right like you do live if your standing in front of him or the guitar player comes from the left & the bass from the right & vox from straight ahead or however the band likes to stand when they play live...everything in it's place. All music has been recorded like that since stereo recording was invented & then Moby (not the 1st but probably the most popular) will do something odd on some songs & add random effects & reverbs to each of the sounds & do the opposite of music as we know it & make each sound completely foreign to the others. He totally rearranges the soundstage. Guess it's a challenge to decide where in the mix an electronic sound (or scratch from someone elses record) should go. Even when Trent Reznor uses computers to make a heavy distorted guitar sound he places them in the mix to make them seem real. Sometimes a computer is making the tone & not any real object or instrument that physically exists in someones hands or in front of a in each song Moby I wanna make it sound real or do I wanna make it sound abstract? The problem with electronic music is usually the lack of feeling but what makes this different from common techno is that he uses studio tricks that emulate emotion in the listener. just depends are where you put the artificial sounds & how you twist them...Kinda like when he used the basketball & marble sounds in the imaginary drum kit, a perfect example would be Trio's "Da Da Da" (you know the song..if only from the Volkswagen commercial). The basic beat of the song is really just samples of Atari "pong" bleeps & blips...certainly nothing real to it other than the vocals. I am surprised at the techno success of Moby's music..( I guess it's just the simple beats) I really think this album was made more for headphone fanatics & as a slap in the face to the mono sound you get from record scratchers at a rave. He put more work into the mix, placement and colorization of each sounds than any other aspect of it. You can't tune in on the position of each sound as a "soundstage" in a stereo mix at a club where they use 50 speakers all over to make it just loud wherever you are. All you get is a big fat dance beat. This is recorded in a way so you know exactly where things are in the mix (almost mathematical). So I guess my final thoughts on his style of music is he's quite good with effects & things that will actually effect your emotions & I must commend him for teaching the average listener "how to listen" to music....but the question is..Is this music? I listened all the way through and was still interested... But when you listen to a record of a real band you will listen to each members performance as a group & each persons part in making it one project. Like with live jazz or a Cream jam session you will listen to the way they make it up as they go along & play off each other. With this there is no relationship to a group. Maybe some jazz piano played & recorded before electronic sounds were invented was put together with some other performer from a different age. Most of the piano was just lifted from someone else's record & then some beat from a machine was added. I can still say it's a great recording but I guess I can't say it's a great performance & that's also what messes with me. He has an ear for finding a sample of a piano that goes well with a sample of a voice that a computer syncs with a sample of something else & I guess you can call that art...& I guess it's still one of my favorite recordings in my very large collection.



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