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|Written by Mike Cullen|
|Tuesday, 13 April 2010 00:00|
Eleven years ago, a moderately-known artist released an album: an album that would either make or break his career; an album that would go on to be one of the best selling of its genre, and be considered a shining example of how that genre could become mainstream with the right kind of marketing, the right kind of artist, and most importantly, the right selection of songs. Anyone who was over the age of 30 at the time probably would not have known either the artist or the album. For anyone younger than that, you probably loved this album when it first came out in 1999 and to this day have a copy of it on your CD rack.
I'm talking about Moby's Play.
When Play was originally released back in 1999, it did not really light up the charts. In fact, if it weren't for two key factors, the album would have been a complete flop and quite likely the end of Moby's mainstream music career. First, Moby allowed for the licensing of all the tracks from Play for everything from movies to commercials. A quick Google search will show you the various ways the tracks have been used. In fact, it has been reported that the album was a financial success long before it became as hugely popular as it did -- a direct result of that licensing.
The second reason is perhaps purely speculative: the use of "Porcelain" in The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. I'm not suggesting that every single person who saw that movie raced out to buy the album based solely on that one song; in fact, people probably bought the movie soundtrack instead (I know I did), but it boils down to exposure. It was shortly after the movie release that the album really started to get noticed by a wider listening audience -- so much so that it topped the U.K. album charts mid-year 2000, whereas in 1999, the year of its release, it scraped by at #33.
What made it so special? At the time, the album was innovative. Moby was sampling from various genres of music, most notably gospel and soul. It was a really mainstream electronic album, and many of the sounds that would not surprise us to hear on the radio today were fresh back then. Moby played with a lot of styles on Play, so while there is no real cohesive theme or sense of wholeness to it, the album ends up being more of a tapestry of sound than a singular idea. It was amazing stuff back when it was released.
But has it held up eleven years later?
Yes and no. I know that's a pretty dodgy and non-committal answer, but that's what it is. On the one hand, many parts of Play still sound fresh today. The more ambient tracks such as "Porcelain" still sound new and innovative, while the more mainstream songs, such as "Bodyrock," "Honey," and "Southside," have shown their age, mostly because pop music has largely changed its sound in the last decade. As far as electronic albums go, Play has been outdone by other albums since then.
Play was the "it thing" in 1999. It might not be considered a musical masterpiece in 2010, but one has to appreciate the wider impact that the album has had. Songs in commercials are so common we hardly notice them anymore, and while sampling has been around for quite some time, it took someone such as Moby to be one of the big trailblazers in bringing it to the mainstream. So take your dusty copy out of the CD case and give it another listen. You might not love it, you may not even like, but try to remember the impact it had on your listening tastes back then, and how it's opened your eyes to new musical experiences even today.