Music

Moby – Reprise [Album Review]

It was Moby’s fifth album Play (1999) that truly captured the world’s attention, recorded over two years from 1997 to 1999, the collection was originally intended to be his last but the worldwide commercial and critical success placed him deep into the roots of electronica forever and, even today, it’s the best-selling album of that genre of all-time.

What made Play particularly exciting was how its ‘must-have’ nature was word-of-mouth, it was one of those slow burners that eventually everyone had in their CD collection. Play is a magnificent album, full of gospel samples and raw melody that infiltrates almost every track. It found a place within dance and electronica that somehow also equalled and balanced out against the rock and indie around it, effortlessly jumping the genres and admirers. While it was that album that got my full attention, I was previously a huge fan of his track ‘Go’, which I found somewhere during the club years in the mid-90s, even though that song itself was originally released in 1991. Since then, his career has sailed along, even providing the killer credit track for Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne franchise, and he was a proud activist for animal rights and Veganism before it was ‘popular’ – something that people used to find more fascinating and unique than they do now, thankfully!

Reprise is Moby’s 19th studio album, it’s a masterclass and overlook of his career so far, with orchestral and acoustic arrangements of 14 songs from his back catalogue that features a wealth of great talent and exciting reinterpretations of this own music, whilst never losing the heart that made it popular in the first place. Inspired by his first gig with an orchestra (led by conductor Gustavo Dudamel) a few years ago, this is a smart return to the fray for Moby – and a welcome one at that.

Released on label Deutsche GrammophonReprise has seen Moby and his collaborators work with the Budapest Art Orchestra, to re-envisioned tracks from over the last 30 years, alongside a host of guest stars. Opening with Everloving, a later track from Play, it starts similarly but is quite a pleasant way to bring you into this renewed world, with more depth and opening the story beyond the past. This is already my favourite version of the song. The album doesn’t waste time either as move back to the big hitters and, let me tell you, there’s no waning as we dive into Natural Blues, featuring Gregory Porter and Amythyst Kiah – and with both bringing their unique ethereal and expansive sound.

A revisit to Go then picks up the pace, it’s a track I remember from some dance mix album but instantly loved it and played it often, and loud. For me, it captured part of that 95/96 era with the likes of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting (and even the film Go) as much as others, even though it had already been out for years. It holds an atmosphere that’s from the past but, boy, does it pack a punch. No reprise from Moby would work without Porcelain, his epic single, and here it features Jim James of My Morning Jacket with a deeper classical version but there’s no mistaking that rain-drop piano that comfort, accompanied by an iconic string section.

On the B-Side of the grey vinyl, which plays flawlessly, we get Extreme Ways – which I instantaneously link to Bourne now. It’s a smart example of the wide talents of Moby, stripped back with a violin and acoustic guitar, giving it air to breathe. Then, in comes his vocals which hold a slight resonance of Johnny Cash covering Hurt and, yes, in the most positive way. Maybe not as gravelly but there’s something in the storytelling. Next up is a cover of David Bowie’s Heroes with Mindy Jones, who’s been working with him for several years now. It’s a song everyone knows so well, and they do it justice.

One of the stand-out tracks is God Moving Over the Face of the Waters (from 1995 album Everything is Wrong), in which he’s collaborated with Víkingur Ólafsson, the Icelandic pianist. If, for a moment, you imagine Iceland as a vast soundscape, then everything here could provide the anthem to the country. It’s colossal and yet emotive and intimate, Hans Zimmer will be jealous, and you could hear this version scoring some Denis Villeneuve or Christopher Nolan film at some point. If Ólafsson doesn’t mind, of course. What’s even more crazy is the original track is embedded in my mind forever because it accompanies the credits of one of the finest ever films, Heat.

Onto Side C – with Why Does my Heart Feel So Bad? I loved this track so much from Play, I used to just loop the opening piano motif for ages. If you read the sleeve notes, you’ll discover this was originally written as a techno track in 1992 (which is crazy), but this time around Apollo Jane, Deitrick Haddon and a stellar Gospel Choir give it a new life: turn this one up loud.

The Lonely Night comes from 2013’s Innocents, and brings back Mark Lanegan with his very distinct tones, alongside the legendary Kris Kristofferson (who I was lucky enough to see live in 2019) and it’s a tender lament that slips into the heart, when you let it. We Are All Made of Stars sets me into the world of Carol Morley’s Out of Blue, a sequence of song and a story beyond the reach and just beyond the logical vision. But it’s grounded, I think I prefer this version with flickers of Pink Floyd drifting between the spaces and thematic, just as a choir rolls in from the rooftops.  

Interestingly he finishes off the album with lesser-known tracks. Lift Me Up continues the choir theme but this time with over 200 people and, even more fascinating, it was recorded recently and so technology does its beautiful thing. It’s a catchy rhythm kicking throughout, and then it builds and grows with booming energy. The Great Escape features Nataly Dawn, Alice Skye and Luna Li, their voices blend with a deep string section that’s super mellow and ghostly, but there’s always a subtle hook in Moby’s work and it lingers around in the air of the room, and it’s welcome.

Almost Home stays within the same melodic world of the last but it accompanies what’s being constructed, creating an ending of the story just before we fade out. Featuring the voices of Novo Amor, Mindy Jones and Darlingside, the title of the song literally represents Moby taking us towards the end of the journey away, and orchestrally it’s beautifully developed.  The Last Day, also featuring Darlingside but this time alongside Skylar Grey, has similarities to songs before but is more sure of the story in terms of clarity. This final section of tracks works together but feels more about the voices than the orchestral side, despite a sweeping string section accompanying – and very Zimmer again (which is never a bad thing for me). This isn’t a grievance, it’s like a bonus mini-album and helps the double vinyl balance out.

Reprise is a refreshing return to the world of Moby, he’s collaborated and collated an intelligent, soaring and beautiful addition to his catalogue, and some of these songs with a full live orchestra would be quite something to witness, you know, if you were considering touring it…

Moby’s Reprise is available now on CD and Vinyl, from Deutsche Grammophon: https://amzn.to/34zRAHx

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