If there was ever an album which appeared in more films, television shows, and adverts than this one, then I don’t know what it was. Cue screams of “sell out!”
It would probably be fair to say, though, that Play would never have been much of a success if it hadn’t have been for all the promotion – the soundtrack slots, or the eight singles. Over the course of two and a half years, the charts belonged to Moby. Now, exactly fifteen years after the album’s original release, it’s time to see whether it’s still as good as it seemed at the time.
The thing is, Play is very, very good. It kicks off with a bit of drama in the form of lead single Honey, blending old gospel vocals with energetic piano backing. Apart from the high pad strings, this was almost all new territory for Moby. For Belgian-only single Find My Baby, the piano is replaced by a guitar and bass riff, but the vocal is equally repetitive, while the backing builds its way through verses and choruses.
The huge single Porcelain is next, with a full vocal delivered by Moby and a whole load of pads and piano sounds. It’s almost tempting to wonder how exactly this was such a big hit – but it does seem to have a particular magic about it.
Piano chords then mark the opening of the brilliant Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? It almost feels dated now – not because there’s anything particularly to age it in its sounds, but just because it was such a key soundtrack of its era. That’s OK though – it really is quite brilliant.
Next comes South Side, only released as a single in the US – perhaps correctly, because it does feel as though it belongs in Moby‘s then hometown of New York. I wonder how many non-Americans would cite this as one of the more memorable tracks on the album?
There’s then a brief chillout moment in the shape of the inappropriately named Rushing, before second single Bodyrock turns up, a quite brilliant hybrid of electronic hip hop with a flanged guitar effect running all the way through. Closing the first disc of the eighteen track double-album vinyl version is the brilliant single Natural Blues.
The second half of the album kicks off with Machete, channelling somewhat Moby‘s earlier dance-meets-chillout sound. But in general, the latter tracks on Play are much gentler and more laid back than the earlier ones. 7 is just a very nice bit of noodling, and then the early single Run On, while totally brilliant – possibly even my favourite track on the album, with its quirky styling – is very gentle indeed.
There’s something quite ethereal, as the short, soft music floats past you – Down Slow becomes the slightly urban flavour of If Things Were Perfect, which rolls into the acoustic sound of Everloving. Track by track, things seem to slow down further. The suave sound of Inside, and then comes Guitar, Flute and String, where the title really says it all. Then The Sky is Broken, with its lovely spoken vocal, and you should probably be asleep by this stage.
Finally comes My Weakness, one of the best closing tracks on any album. If you wanted to break it down, you could probably argue that it’s just some strings and sampled chanting, but somehow it’s also uplifting, beautiful, and entirely representative of the album as a whole.
Play turned Moby‘s career around, and in a couple of years he from being largely viewed as an eccentric nineties dance star to becoming a widely recognised and admired musician. It’s a fantastic album even now, fifteen years on, and should have a place in every music collection.
If you’re in the right part of the world, the best deal for Play is at iTunes, where you get a copy of the excellent Play: The B-Sides thrown in for free.