Every few years prior to the internet era – sometimes even every year – there would be an inexplicable hit record, which just sold so damn much without any sense, ahead of time, that the record would sell. Years later these records are often embarrassing. The classic record of the ’90s is Cracked Rear View – to this day I think I have met maybe 2 or 3 people of the 21 million to buy it who will admit to having it in their house, and only one of those people admits to liking it. Well, for me Play has a similar story.
Suddenly, without any explanation, Moby was everywhere. I was 17 and I had never heard of Moby. I was barely familiar with electronic music anyway, aside from Chemical Brothers and Prodigy and Fat Boy Slim videos, but even if I had been a little more aware of this music, I’m sure I never could have seen it coming. I can’t imagine anyone did. But he was everywhere – first in ads and then his videos were in constant rotation with millions buying the record. And then suddenly everyone had regrets and the marketing of the record was unseemly and anyone who bought it had been duped.
If any of this ever appealed to me it was probably the use of “old time” samples. (Though that in itself raises ethical concerns, which you might consider more serious than licensing your music for ads. It’s one thing for the powerless to sample the music of the rich and powerful. It is another thing for an established, white musician to rely on samples of the powerless, who were never properly compensated for their work.) But the thing about this record is that he is not consistent in building the songs from these samples – at least one of which relies on it so much as to seem like it’s barely Moby’s work. There is music on here that doesn’t fit in with the concept – if it was indeed a concept – and sounds like it not only doesn’t belong on this record, but is the work of someone else (or him at a different time). I think if you are going to build songs around blues and gospel samples, you should make an entire album of it.
The other thing is that Moby is not charismatic but he inserts himself into this record. The songs in which Moby sings are sometimes significantly less appealing to me than the songs in which Moby is just the musician and producer.
And it’s too long. There’s not enough quality material here for the runtime. If you were one of the people duped into buying this record due to its ubiquity, you were likely surprised that not everything here is anywhere near as strong as the best singles. (I would also point out that not all the singles even fit the concept and I can’t say that I like them all equally.)
In retrospect the furor over how he marketed the record seems absolutely absurd, except perhaps in light of his veganism, and a very ’90s thing to get mad about. (Now people are happy to see musicians get paid.) But it’s still one of those records where you’re left thinking “This record – this record??? – went platinum in 20 countries?” It’s yet another meh record that sold millions because we collectively lost our mind for it for some reason. Who knows why.