Oftentimes it is said by people (pretending to be) wise enough that the most beautiful pieces of art are products of despair, depression and crisis. I’m not going to go into this since 1. this is not the case with this record and 2. I do not want to pretend I’m wise enough for that.
The first time I heard Moby’s name was in a song by Eminem and as an 11 year-old I could not really see the point of being so angry at someone whom the man did not really know. At least that was the picture in my head. Small skip in time, I heard ‘Bodyrock’ in the video game Fifa 2001. I really liked its sampled lyrics (“we rock the party, rock the party” seemed to do exceptionally well with a game on football – or soccer for the dear readers from over there). Another timelapse later I got to hear “Natural Blues” when I was in a really bad period and hearing those achingly well-placed chords of strings and its driving dynamics with all the piano and staccato bass… I rarely cry only because I hear a piece of music… But this was so liberating yet saddening that “Natural Blues” evoked some sort of an emotional whirlwind in my mind and heart and forced me to register and process daily pain until I was well enough.
Everybody knows the story: ‘Play’ at first seemed to be a commercial disaster and because of the bad press of Moby’s previous effort ‘Animal Rights’ not too many music critics took the time and energy to even listen to the album.
“February in 2000, I was in Minnesota, I was depressed and my manager called me to tell me that Play was #1 in the UK, and […] Then it was #1 in France, in Australia, in Germany—it just kept piling on.” – Moby told Rolling Stone.
And this of course turned Moby’s fortune and life upside down. That’s not the point though. The why is so much more interesting. Moby’s early techno and ambient ambitions and records are somewhat known and loved or hated according to how receptive the listeners were to that sort of raw electronic, assertively pioneer sound he was aiming for but what had always been there was Moby’s sensitivity to harmonies and melodies, arches and emotional provocation in the good sense. (It’s enough to listen to ‘Go’ for instance, or ‘Hymn’.)
‘Play’ was recorded and released at the end of the ’90s and consists of 18 songs. It features sampling heavily and has mostly mid-tempo songs. Many of them feature blues field recordings’ samples or instrumentation pieces reminiscent of blues, supporting this are house/downtempo beats and synths. The meeting of these elements give us essentially some sort of a quintessence and looking back and yet, pretending to be wise, I risk saying zeitgeist at the end of a century. A millennium. Everything got faster and more incomprehensible with the advent of the 21st century. ‘Play’ partly sums that up – there’s all the speed, dynamism and rage in that jump on the cover – but on the other hand the album evokes a pastoral, bucolic setting, out in great spaces.
If you find this hard to believe or too emotional, high-brow or pretentious, you can listen to ‘Play’ without having to believe in such big things. Listen to it only in itself and pay attention to yourself.
And this is where I shall return to a thought earlier: ‘Play’ in itself is liberating yet saddening. It evokes some sort of an emotional whirlwind in the mind and heart and forces the listener to register and process daily happenings (love, pain, loss, or only moods) until he/she can move on. It will not shout this skill out loud but sometimes it can help by taking us a bit down but bringing us back up a higher. And this is exactly how the album lets us off: ‘My Weakness’ is no depressive masterpiece. It’s the main character walking away because he/she had had enough and wants to overcome.
You can listen to the album below: