Moby’s most well-received record from a critical standpoint, 1999’s ‘Play’ is representative of where his post-modern sensibilities were perfectly realized in an albeit pretty conventional format. This is the record where he was, more so than at any other point, able to mix his unique brand of techno (though some would disagree) with a traditional sense of rock music and effortlessly approachable pop melodies, even with a sense of traditional rhythm and blues tossed in the mix. Moby’s detractors are a cynical bunch who, more often than not, miss the whole point of where his ideas and image are planted on the musical map.
If you think that blues can’t be mixed with electronica, you’ll be proven wrong on the second track of this record, “Find My Baby”, which serves as a unique musical crossover that evokes the feelings of Muddy Waters and Depeche Mode and smashes them together into a full entrée of expression. First and foremost, that’s exactly what this record is; a full-bodied presentation chock-full of colorful musical expressions and pathways that feel, at once, bizarre in their concoction, and yet so well arranged that they have no choice but to, somehow, work well together. This same feeling comes to the forefront again on “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?”. This track is followed by “South Side”, which is undoubtedly the pop hit of the record and a damn good one at that. However, this record is surely at its best when it’s creating its own rulebook with its own bizarre recipes. Songs like “Bodyrock” succeed in tossing hip hop into the mix and “If Things Were Perfect” wouldn’t sound out of place on U2’s ‘Zooropa’, with its obvious similarity to “Numb” off of that particular record. There is no musical influence that Moby looks down upon on this record. The song “Everloving” holds close to its heart a folk sensibility and yet feels like something completely alien to the traditional warmth of folk music. This is the strength of this record. Moby pulls from all sorts of hats and somehow manages to make them all work.
This is the Moby record for people who don’t like Moby. It features his most explicitly accessible material without sacrificing the adventurous spirit that so fervently envelops his personality. Perhaps defying all logic, this record just works. Why would techno, rock n’ roll, folk, blues, and hip hop fit together so fluently and enthusiastically? Perhaps that’s asking the wrong question. The right question to be asking is why wouldn’t it fit together in the way that it undeniably does? The daring nature unfolds so naturally and organically that it seemingly has no choice but to succeed. Moby wastes no time wondering whether or not the conditions he presents on this record will be worth any of the time and effort he put into recording it; he simply trusts his instincts and the natural process of putting mind and soul into recording. He doesn’t fail, because he doesn’t acknowledge the idea of failure as a possibility in the realm in which this record exists. That is why this will go down as one of the most essential electronic records ever recorded.