Natural Blues

Christina Ricci and Moby

2014 marks some the anniversary for some absolutely fantastic albums, so I thought it would be fun to write about some of my favorite albums that came out a gulp long time ago. This is the first post of a multi-part series.

Eminem may have been right that no one listens to techno anymore, but for one glorious moment in 1999, a bald headed vegan techno DJ became a big deal in the music world, almost by accident. If you think about it, it’s kind of amazing that Moby had such a blip of success. When Play came out in May of 1999, he was a has-been DJ. After getting a major label deal in the mid 90s, he put out Animal Rights, a punk record that turned off both critic and fan alike. There were low expectations for Play, and it was slow to take off once it was released. Yet, history has a funny way of making something of nothing, and now we regard Play as the high point of Moby’s career, exactly at the point he thought he was washed up and was ready to get out of the music business all together.

It’s funny how it happens too, because Play is an album that’s really all over the place. Everyone remembers the Alan Lomax stuff, and for good reasons. “Honey”, “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?”, “Run On”, and “Natural Blues” are all phenomenal songs. To be frank, “Natural Blues” is still my all time favorite Moby song. Yet, there’s a lot more going on here. There’s a lot of wonderfully ambient stuff on this album. Most people remember “Porcelain”, which while not being one of the best ambient songs Moby’s ever done, is quite good. There’s even some more rock sounding stuff on here. If there’s one thing people really remember, it’s the video from “South Side”, and mostly because Gwen Stefani was in it. She wasn’t even on the album version of the song. Apparently, she was supposed to be, but something happened and they couldn’t get her on it, but she’s in the video (and in subsequent pressings of the CD, they include the version with her in it, so you’re something of a fan if you have the original one with just Moby singing on it). That was the thing that really launched Moby out there.

Well, that, and the fact that Play was the first album that had every single one of its tracks licensed for a commercial, movie, or TV show (this is a pretty good telling of just how that happened. Tanking your career with an album that everyone hates makes for some interesting ideas on how to market your next work). It’s only happened twice since apparently. You may not remember hearing that song on the radio, but you sure heard it on every other commercial you saw on TV between 1999 and 2002 or so. It’s one of those fantastic things that happens to come together and serendipitously make an album that was expected to do nothing in sales actually do several million sales and become the album everyone remembers you for.

Of course, what goes up must come down, and it didn’t really take Moby all that long to come back down. The albums that followed have never generated the same level of buzz and Moby has retreated to being a niche artist these days, but I still love him. And for a brief moment 15 years ago, so did everyone else.