Different Grooves (07/07/2000)
Moby, Play (V2 Records 1999) - Play is the fifth full-length release from chameleon musician Moby, who has also recorded under the name Voodoo Child. Moby shows tremendous versatility on Play, which spans genres and styles to deliver a synthetic and entrancing whole.
Moby was born in 1965, and is a consistent genre-bender. In his youth he was a member of the hardcore punk outfit The Vatican Commandos, and substituted as a singer for Flipper while their vocalist was in prison. Moby is a dedicated vegan, and refuses to travel anywhere by car because of environmental considerations.
Moby (given name Richard Hall) is a long-time resident of New York City, and said to be a descendent of author Herman Melville. Moby's 1990's contributions to dance and techno made him a much sought-after remixer. Moby previously recorded for Elektra, including Everything Is More (1995) and Animal Rights.
Play is hard to describe, yet grows with repeated listenings. Moby provides all instrumentation, and samples with delightful ingenuity, with songs like "Porcelain" having a Pet Shop Boys flavor, while "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?" merges into more of a soulful feel. Throughout all is an underlying spiritual element, with hints of Alabama Three (who recorded the theme song to the hit HBO show, "The Sopranos").
While Moby's music has a head-twisting element, Moby says he's not into drugs. Yet he admits that "dance culture and drug culture are inherently linked. But I'm 33 years old and I don't do drugs. The only period I did them was when I was 10 until I was 13, because I wanted to hang out with the cool kids and all the cool kids did drugs."
Play is the kind of album that builds over time, and cannot be absorbed in a single listening. The album has blues elements, as well as a touch of hip-hop. Also dig on "Natural Blues," with its trance background.
Concedes Moby, "The album is good, if I dare say so myself. Much more down tempo than previous stuff." The arrangements are remarkable, as Moby effortlessly blends genres, sounds, and samples, all based around a keyboard-oriented background.
Moby shares a kinship with Brian Eno, another stylistic innovator, whose albums' contributions ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. In this regard, the hugely overrated Beck would be wise to take a lesson from Moby. Beck's last album, Midnite Vultures, worked from the Prince playbook, with one notable exception: there were no catchy songs that made you want to go back to the album.
While the latter half of the album slows down, the first two-thirds are rewarding and without contemporary peer. Press on Play.
Cat Stevens, Teaser and the Firecat (A&M 1971/2000) - For the 30th anniversary of his U.S. recordings, A&M Records has reissued three Cat Stevens albums: Mona Bone Jacon (first released April 1970), Tea for the Tillerman (first released November 1970), and Teaser and the Firecat (first released September 1971). For a slice of classic singer-songwriter, you can't do much better than Cat Stevens.
Now age 52, Cat Stevens' mother was Swedish, and his father was a Greek Cypriot villager who owned a restaurant in London. Stevens (given name Steven Georgiou) emerged as a cult star at a young age in his native England, before he was stopped by tuberculosis and a collapsed lung in 1968. While in the hospital, Stevens began to write songs which explored life on a deeper and more introspective level.
Mona Bone Jacon was his first effort for A&M Records, and the first of eight consecutive gold albums. Tracks such as "Lady D'Arbanville" (written about Patti D'Arbanville) and "Katmandu" earned him underground status in America.
But it was Tea for the Tillerman later that same year that established his signature folk-pop sound with such songs as "Wild World" and "Where Do the Children Play?" (Listen also for the evocative cover of "Wild World" by Jimmy Cliff, which highlights Stevens' skills as a songwriter.)
Cat Stevens played keyboards and guitars on each album, and was joined by Alun Davies on guitar. John Ryan played bass on the first two albums, and Del Newman provided string arrangements on Tillerman and Firecat. Also listen for keyboardist Rick Wakeman on Firecat.
Stevens reached even higher on the pop charts with Teaser and the Firecat, which included "Morning Has Broken" (a No. 6 single), "Peace Train" (a No. 7 single), and "Moonshadow" (which reached to No. 30).
The reissues are straightforward and feature a clean sound. What is surprising is how different each album (all produced by Paul Samwell-Smith) sounds. Mona Bone Jacon has a subdued flavor, while Teaser and the Firecat rides into pop territory.
Unfortunately, the reissues add nothing in the way of new commentary or explanation regarding the albums. These three discs are straight reissues, without even new artwork.
Perhaps this is reflective of Stevens' religious views: Stevens converted to Islam on December 23, 1977, changed his name to Yusuf Islam, and has not released a pop album since. Stevens entered into an arranged marriage in 1979 with Fouzia Ali, the mother of his five children.
In discussing his religious ideology, Stevens says, "I used to hedge my bets. I carried a cross and a rabbit's foot. I wouldn't travel on the 13th. I made sure my flat in Rio de Janeiro had a good view of the statue of Jesus on the mountain above the city. I was looking for a place of safety."
Stevens reentered the public eye in the 90s when he was identified as a supporter of the fatwa against author Salman Rushdi. Stevens is uncomfortable when the topic is raised, but refuses to disavow his reported support for the fatwa (certainly a disappointing reaction).
But the music holds up, especially Tea for the Tillerman. Enjoy these classic 70s tracks.
- Randy Krbechek © 2000
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