Downtempo pioneer Moby did not have the most successful start to his career – he had a short moment of fame with one of his first songs (Go) in 1991, but after that was only popular amongst techno and ambient music fans. He hit rock bottom in 1996 with a Punk Rock album, Animal Rights, and almost quit music as the album had barely any sales and he lost a lot of his fanbase. Given this lead-up, it’s quite surprising to find that his 1999 follow-up, Play, became the best-selling album in the Downtempo genre of all time.
Play isn’t a massively electronic-sounding album and also isn’t the most danceable album of all time, but the influence that it had on electronic music as well as its legacy makes it a necessary inclusion in this series. It’s one of the rare electronic albums that made it in the pop scene in a time when electronic music was very underground and virtually unheard of in the mainstream music industry. Another interesting feature of the album is that it didn’t fare very well after it was released – it sold 6,000 copies in the first week, but after it suddenly and seemingly inexplicably became incredibly popular 10 months later (in early 2000), it was selling 150,000 copies a week.
The logical reason behind this is the mass of simple yet catchy tunes on the album, many of which were released as singles. Honey, Find My Baby, South Side (especially the single version as a duet with Gwen Stefani), are all catchy tunes that can be sung along to without thinking, whereas others like Porcelain, Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? and Natural Blues are more emotive and do a very good job of stirring your feelings. There are also a few rock influences in the album, but the majority is well and truly Moby’s famous downtempo style.
Have a listen to the original album below, and you’ll hopefully recognize quite a few of the songs on it.