For around five years around the turn of the century, if there was one sound that you couldn’t really get away from, it was the combination of dark electronics and sampled soulful vocals from old records, a movement spearheaded by Moby.
He may have really only brought us two albums in this form, Play (1999) and 18 (2002), but Moby is nothing if not prolific. Each album was augmented by a second release – Play: The B-Sides (2000) and 18 B-Sides (2003) – and so we effectively got four albums-worth of material.
18 B-Sides opens with Landing, starring Azure Ray on vocals. Originally on the back of We Are All Made of Stars, it’s a lovely piece – undeniably overshadowed by the a-side, but sweet and gentle nonetheless. Then comes Love of Strings, which appeared on the back of the second single Extreme Ways. It’s essentially just a remix of album track Signs of Love, but it’s nice to hear this more lush, instrumental, and slightly extended, version.
Then come a trio of tracks that, despite the album’s title, never seem to have appeared on singles, although the first, Nearer, did appear on a War Child album earlier in 2003. It’s a sample-based track that owes a lot in mood to Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?
Ultimately, where Play: The B-Sides had offered a lot of tracks that were as good as – and in some cases better than – Play, 18 B-Sides clearly adds little to the original album. There’s nothing really bad here – this would easily have been a good follow-up to Play by itself, but there also seems to be nothing particularly special. Afterlife is next, a pleasant dramatic track, with Moby‘s own nervous vocals.
Moby seems to record so many tracks that sometimes his titles start to retread their own ground, and so while String Electro might seem a good name, it’s not a million miles away from something he’s done before. More surprising is that this is another remake of one of his own tracks – it’s a lush, beatsy version of In This World, which is a nice, if somewhat confusing, inclusion here.
Then it’s back to the b-sides and bonus tracks – Downhill backed In This World. It’s a soft piece, built around one very small vocal sample. It’s good, but again, not really anything we haven’t heard before. Which is something of an ongoing theme here – Moby fans will clearly enjoy this album, and others will find it pleasant, but unlike even Play‘
Soul to Love was the second b-side on We Are All Made of Stars, and is built around a deep falling arpeggio and a vocal sample. Then comes the dark, catchy instrumental Bed, which appeared on the back of German-only single Jam for the Ladies.
Somewhat obviously named, and also easily confused with Piano & String from Moby‘s 1993 second album Ambient, Piano & Strings is an atmospheric soundtrack piece taken from the third single In This World, complete with heavy background flanging and vinyl noise.
Horse & Carrot is a new track, with some gentle bongo action, just to keep things interesting. At this of the album, we’re into deep, repetitive dance-ambient instrumentals, where each track sounds as though it should last for hours. This one lasts about five minutes.
Life’s So Sweet was the third track on Extreme Ways, taking piano and vocal samples and building a soft track around them. Then ISS, which appeared on the back of Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday), ably demonstrating what happens when Moby slows down and creates a nine-minute atmospheric odyssey – gentle percussion, rippling bass, and layer upon layer of huge pads. It’s big, and really rather beautiful, and also echoes a piece from Ambient, the adorable eight minute second track Heaven.
At the end comes Stay, with another of Moby‘s own vocals. It’s pleasant, and a good closing track with rippling piano, but it’s also a good parallel for most of this album – far from Moby‘s best work and far from his worst.
So whereas Play: The B-Sides added a whole additional album to the Play era, 18 B-Sides seems to be more of an unnecessary cash-in. Nice to have, but fine to live without. If you don’t own a copy already, there are plenty of other ways you could spend your money.
If you do want a copy, the download is still widely available. For the physical release, look for 18 B-Sides + DVD or 18 DVD + B-Sides, depending on the territory you’re currently in.