Wednesday, July 21, 1999

Bluesy Big Beat

Posted By on Wed, Jul 21, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Once he was America’s rave-anthem king and now he’s America’s, well, Fatboy Slim, leaning on old vocal samples – read: public domain and therefore royalty-free – to find his bluesy, big-beat sound here. Moby’s MO is to fashion his tracks around vocal snippets from pre-blues warblers, going back to the dusty choruses of old 78s ("Why does my heart feel so bad?", etc.) to find his sample-enabled soul. There are brighter, if quieter, spots than the catchy but hardly noteworthy "Honey" single, but all of them follow a similar format. The epic ambient lilt of "Porcelain" finds the Mobester stepping up to the mic, but it’s the clipped-off sample voice singing "woman" that provides the hook. Thus inspired, but smart enough not to sing too much – he uses sampled vocals for good reason – he crafts a few of his own tech-blues explorations to round out the album. But when Moby breaks ranks with his sampler brethren and actually plays electric guitar, the results are flat; Santanalike solos over slow-building sample-funk tracks just don’t add much to the mix. But to his credit, over Play’s 18 cuts, Moby shows he’s thinking in album-length arcs. And for all its simplicity – from its random, simple drum sounds and good-time romps into techno-blues drag – there is a likability, if not an almost-in-spite-of-itself profundity. Where Moby’s earlier full-length efforts were the work of a kid with too many scattered, half-baked ideas, this is Moby the artist knowing his limitations, trying to find a meaning and resonance from other people’s music like a true great DJ. The only difference is that Moby’s assembling not just beats, but a whole new kind of bluesy-soul moving among his soft-spoken beats.

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