Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Moby, Play

Although some techno futurists still disparage the gorgeous Play, it qualified as a futurist work simply by redefining the concept of "commercial." Clubs would never take a CD mega, and no way could these anonymously sung tracks crack any hit-based radio format. So Moby's handlers swamped the mass market through the side door, placing swatches of all 18 songs (most many times) on movie and TV soundtracks and in ads for the likes of Volkswagen, Bailey's Irish Cream and American Express. FM exposure followed. But the main reason this album will sound familiar the way Beethoven's Ninth does to a classical ignoramus is that little bits of it have seeped into most Americans 'brains. For this be grateful, because those bits are intensely pleasurable as melody or texture or sometimes beat, and because Moby has ordered, paced, and segued them and their intimate surroundings into something that suggests a surging and receding whole. A Treacherous Three rap powers "Bodyrock," but most of the identifiable sources are little-known blues and gospel singers first archived by folklorist Alan Lomax. Folk purists might well claim this re-use cheapens them. But here's betting musical folk like the singers themselves are plenty proud somewhere.

Wondering Sound, April 11, 2011