It probably all started with a Bailey's commercial 20 years ago
December 8, 2019 5:32 AM   Subscribe

A decade ago, Moby analyzed his album from a decade previous, Play, for Rolling Stone. He had intended for it to be his last album. It turned out to be a global album superstar [YT Playlist, 64m]. It was Christmas season 20 years ago when the world first started taking notice. Side A: Honey [video], Find My Baby [video], Porcelain [video (eye), video (car)], Why Does My Heart Feel So bad? [video]

Side B: South Side [video], Rushing, Bodyrock [video (performance), video (auditions), video (sunglasses), Natural Blues [video (nursing home), video (animated)]

Side C: Machete, 7, Run On [video], Down Slow, If Things Were Perfect, Everloving

Side D: Inside, Guitar Flute & String, The Sky Is Broken, My Weakness
posted by hippybear (32 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I had never heard of Moby before this, and it is not my usual taste of music. But I happened to see an article at one point that discussed how Moby had offered the tracks free for use by film or television, and they had a list of the different shows or commercials that each of the tracks had already been used in and I recognized nearly all of them and having liked them at the time. So I bought the album since I had apparently inadvertently heard it all already and liked it.

And a shout-out to probably one of my favorite AskMe Moments....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:08 AM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Heavyweight podcast has a great episode about the guy who lent Moby the CDs that he used to sample "Play" and how he wants them back now please LINK
posted by mecran01 at 6:11 AM on December 8, 2019 [15 favorites]

Moby is so self-deprecating in this interview. I really, really enjoy it. He makes it sound like Play was the Marmaduke of EDM, just some spaghetti he threw at the wall that happened to stick.

This still makes me laugh. I recorded a rushed demo to cassette. I could never mix it in a way I was happy with, so I just ended up using the cassette demo on the album. If you listen to it, there’s hiss, there’s tape warble. It’s probably one of the only songs on a 10-million-selling record recorded to cassette. And what’s funny is that it’s been licensed. Oliver Stone used it in a movie, it’s been in a couple really big movies. And every time I hear it in a huge movie, I think to myself, “This is just a crummy demo on cassette.”

posted by mecran01 at 6:50 AM on December 8, 2019 [9 favorites]

The samples on this album from Sounds of the South were one of my gateways into loving old rural American music, as a kid in an era when it was hard to find weird records unless you already knew about them. This, the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, and that one Skip James song on the Ghost World soundtrack were life-altering.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:58 AM on December 8, 2019 [6 favorites]

For some reason in high school I developed a crush on Moby because he had a really charming blog on his website at the time, and I guess his music sounded like *something* to me as opposed to the Total Request Live stuff everyone I knew was into which sounded like nothing to me. Looking back on it now I kind of feel like, this? This is what you thought sounded like something? But at least it was different and also it had some feeling in it, because everything else looked and sounded so slick and shiny and slippery and had nothing humane in it to grab onto. I think maybe that's why it attracted the attention that he talks about being surprised about. Everyone was like well we don't really know what we're doing, what about this guy, is this the new thing? Is this going to be something?

“First show that I did on the tour for Play was in the basement of the Virgin Megastore in Union Square,” says Moby. “Literally playing music while people were waiting in line buying CDs. Maybe 40 people came.”

This made me laugh cause about 2 or 3 years after this he did a cd signing in this same store that I waited in line for for hours camped outside. And because I was one of the first whatever number I got free tickets to his show that week. My brother had given me the ride into the city and on our way home about a minute from the house we hit a huge pot hole and the wheel took a lot of damage plus the car was out of gas. So in all the confusion the tickets must have flown away into the night and we never found them. I did get to eventually see Moby in concert. I was with my boyfriend and Moby was socializing out on the street during intermission and we kind of tried to get nearer and he saw us and got real scared and went inside.
posted by bleep at 9:21 AM on December 8, 2019 [7 favorites]

Many years ago I was DJing* at a friend's birthday party, and it seemed to be going fairly well until I dropped a track from Play (I think it was Porcelain?) and people immediately started booing and throwing things at me. I knew he was generally seen by this crowd as "Mr Car Ad Music Sell-Out" but until this point I hadn't quite appreciated the degree to which he was despised. I've.. ..gone off the album since, for this and a variety of other reasons.

Still think "Next is the E" is a proper banger though.

(*There had been actual competent people on earlier, but someone needed to keep the music going..)
posted by doop at 9:33 AM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I was really into Animal Rights in high school. So, I have that song in common with bono, I guess.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:41 AM on December 8, 2019

No discussion of Play is complete without mentioning what is probably still Jonathan Goldstein's best Heavyweight episode
posted by morspin at 9:49 AM on December 8, 2019

Some thoughts:

One thing which struck me while assembling this post is how much of this supposedly "electronica" album is acoustic instruments or acoustic sounding synths. It's really not very much Chemical Brothers-ish.

Another thing which struck me is how much the method of track construction is similar to Nine Inch Nails, despite being an entirely different musical style. Machete really points this out.

None of the tracks were given away for free. All of the tracks on the album were licensed, but none of them were solicited by the musician or the label -- all of the licenses were sought out by the customers and were paid for. That's in one of the links of the FPP.

Side D is a perfect little EP in and of itself.
posted by hippybear at 10:16 AM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm a Moby fan. Never understood why people were so rabidly anti-Moby. He's one of those random performers that seems to polarize people just by existing. Everything I've read seems to indicate he's a pretty nice guy (the Christian thing is iffy but, I mean, as long as he's not judgey and trying to convert people all the time, I can deal with it). If you don't like his music, fine, just move on. Oh well. Thanks for the post.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:55 AM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

I’m Team Gregor all the way.
posted by badbobbycase at 10:58 AM on December 8, 2019

Ooooooh, see that article linked in nebulawindphone's comment above is exactly what I'm talking about. That reviewer is so bitter.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:02 AM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

You know, now that I think about it, I bet it's the fact that he is vegan. Nobody draws more ire and resentment than vegans do just by existing. Other people eating vegetables for ethical reasons is just really scary to a lot of folks apparently.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:08 AM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think also he got used to being rich and famous very quickly and it went right to his head. I think it's really hard for musicians to keep making good music and having worthwhile thoughts once that happens. I think he's also said some unsavory stuff lately especially about how as soon as he got famous he started creeping on a young Natalie Portman and what he said in response didn't sound like he understood that he had fucked up and was sorry.
posted by bleep at 11:54 AM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm a Moby fan. Never understood why people were so rabidly anti-Moby.

The 90s and 2000s were miserable cultural wastelands, IMO because the internet wasn't robust enough to democratize cultural taste.

So you had two things going on that made people hate Moby.

One, you HAD to consume certain media. So people listened to Moby whether they wanted to or not. Nowadays, if you don't like whoever, you just don't listen to them, and it is sort of weird to actively hate an artist. Like, don't let Spotify stream them then?

Two, to the extent that you were able to avoid certain types of culture, you did so by tuning in to different but similarly hegemonic subcultures. Within those subcultures you all "hated" the same things because of group conformity pressures that were, looking back, faintly ridiculous, but which also served a valuable gatekeeping function that kept the subcultures functioning as havens from mass media culture. See also: determining who was a "poser," which, looking back from a position of media plenty, looks like an incredible waste of time but which allowed artists without tons of money/media backing to have legitimate space to be heard in their own subcultures.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:34 PM on December 8, 2019 [7 favorites]

Oh, also, there was a lot of "hate" towards female artists and artists who were seen as not sufficiently masculine. I always assumed Moby got some of that blowback (see also the vegan thing); real men weren't supposed to tolerate men who weren't, like chewing off chicken heads or whatever
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:35 PM on December 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

All Play and No Work: How Moby’s bestselling album damaged electronic music (Fact Magazine, 2019)
I’ll be honest. I never liked Play. And I never really thought about why. But now, at this anniversary time when it will inevitably be feted with fervent hyperbole, I feel it’s important to finally think it through, moving from Moby’s problematic sampling of African-American artists, and Play’s reimagining of music-as-commercial-advertisement, to the perhaps less traveled issue of how we perceive and compensate musical labor in the 21st century.
posted by box at 1:12 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

“Everything I've read seems to indicate he's a pretty nice guy”

Um, have you not seen the Natalie Portman stuff? And there are plenty of other stories about his creepiness with women. He’s not a “pretty nice guy”, so much as “a Nice Guy”. That was certainly my issue with him at the time (well, that and the fact he wrote glorified advert muzak).
posted by tinkletown at 1:20 PM on December 8, 2019 [7 favorites]

Did people who hated him/his music typically know about his issues with women at the time and/or care? Not trying to be snarky, genuine question. I don't remember it, but was not in a position to understand subcultural beliefs/critiques.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:18 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

That's true, I don't think it was common knowledge or that people would care.
posted by bleep at 2:53 PM on December 8, 2019

I don't think the portman stuff was known at the time? I certainly never heard of it before today.

I think a lot of the rage came from just the success of Play, despite being - as illustrated nicely by the interviews - a pretty slapped-together, unthinking album. Throw some beats behind some Lomax, don't even bother mixing some tracks... It doesn't really approach either side - the hip hop beatz or the Lomax samples - with any kind of seriousness. It makes a lot of sense to me that it wasn't 'meant' to be a giant cultural touchstone. It's a punch in a bar brawl that happened to roll a natural twenty with max damage. Occasionally it happens.

It also seems pretty clear that it wasn't written to be used in commercials; it was just so empty and catchy to be a natural fit for them.

And, in the end, it doesn't hold up as well as Portishead or Massive Attack, for exactly all of these reasons. I mean, why listen to Play when there's Paul's Boutique?
posted by kaibutsu at 3:07 PM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

One, you HAD to consume certain media. So people listened to Moby whether they wanted to or not.

This bears repeating. Not just in the sense that he would be unavoidable on the radio or MTV or whatever, but precisely because this album was so widely used in ads.
posted by juv3nal at 3:15 PM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

I put on "Play" for the first time in years and expected to be embarrassed by my horrible taste of years gone by, but instead I still enjoyed it. But back then, I thought of Moby as a raw talent who was going to get a lot better, and now I don't think that happened.
posted by acrasis at 3:57 PM on December 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

but instead I still enjoyed it.

For all its "fuck it this is my swan song I'm just going to put all this shit together" attitude, it's a solid listen which is experimental and interesting and leaves the listener feeling elevated even despite its downbeat tone. I was surprised, myself, when I relistened.
posted by hippybear at 4:03 PM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

In the comments for Porcelain, someone wrote: “This is what it feels like to be dumped by Natalie Portman.” which I decided is an oddly-specific emotion and one which I totally did’t get., because I was never aware they were an item.

I can only try to imagine what that must be like and nothing comes to mind.
posted by drivingmenuts at 5:39 PM on December 8, 2019

No I was not aware of the Natalie Portman thing. Am off to Google it.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 5:48 PM on December 8, 2019

He was certainly boasting about having fucked her in 2008. And the creepy photos, where she looks 16 and uncomfortable and he looks 40 and creepy, have always been around.

He’s always had the reputation for being creepy with women. Whether that is down to his interviews, or vague rumours, I can’t remember now twenty years later. But it’s not like this is a new things as he’s got older.
posted by tinkletown at 6:24 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm sure it Was Known by people who were clued in that he was a creep. But this was a point in time when it was way easier not to find stuff out about celebrities — no twitter, articles and interviews that you could only read if you subscribed to Vice/Rolling Stone/whatever, etc. Besides, the people I remember hating Moby the most were closer to MRAs than feminists.

My sense is that the people I knew in 2001 who hated Moby did it because he was a sellout wimp who their friends seemed to hate, and not because they were taking a principled stand against abuse.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:18 AM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

(Er, and by "sellout wimp" I mean they'd have seen him that way.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:24 AM on December 9, 2019

In the comments for Porcelain, someone wrote: “This is what it feels like to be dumped by Natalie Portman.”

Or to imagine you have been.

I was dismayed at that whole weird interlude, "Play" having been one of the first albums I remember actually listening to over and over again as a kid. I doubt Moby intended it as a soundtrack to juice pouches and Monopoly during summer vacation in suburban Washington but that's what I still fondly associate it with. Once I became old enough to realize I was supposed to be embarrassed about liking it I sold it at a yard sale, but when it comes up in rotation on my Spotify workout playlist I usually won't hit "skip" (unless it's Porcelain, actually).
posted by peakes at 5:34 AM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

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