Three years prior, he had released Animal Rights, an Out-of-Genre Experience that saw him experimenting with hardcore punk, alternative rock, and ambient music. (This was due to his frustration with people failing to comprehend his electronic music.) He was ridiculed and mocked the world over, and the disastrous reception led to Moby considering quitting music altogether. Luckily, the next album he released just so happened to be Play.
An unexpected sleeper hit, it went from selling only six thousand copies in its first week to one hundred fifty thousand per week eleven months later. It has since sold 12 million copies, and it remains the best-selling album of electronically-produced dance music of all time.
A good portion of its success was its then-revolutionary promotion method: in response to getting next to zero radio play, every single song off of Play was licensed for use in advertising, films, and television. Not only did several dozen countries license songs, but many of them licensed multiple songs for use, making Moby's sound a global ubiquity, which in retrospect would come back to bite him later when his albums from the 2000s were not as well received (and partly considered retreads of this album's formula). Regardless, Play was Moby's breakout album and is considered to be his best.
Critics have noted that its influential electronic instrumentals and heavy sampling of folk, roots and blues music, both revolutionary ideas in electronica at the time, are now recognized as well-worn staples of the genre.
It is listed as #341 on both versions of Rolling Stone's "500 best albums of all time" list. A second album, Play: The B Sides, was released in conjunction to the core album the following year, highlighting Moby's diverse style and thematic concerns.
- "Honey" (3:27)
- "Find My Baby" (3:58)
- "Porcelain" (4:01)
- "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?" (4:23)
- "South Side" (3:48)
- "Rushing" (2:58)
- "Bodyrock" (3:34)
- "Natural Blues" (4:12)
- "Machete" (3:36)
- "7" (1:00)
- "Run On" (3:44)
- "Down Slow" (1:32)
- "If Things Were Perfect" (4:16)
- "Everloving" (3:24)
- "Inside" (4:46)
- "Guitar Flute & String" (2:07)
- "The Sky Is Broken" (4:16)
- "My Weakness" (3:37)
Play: The B Sides
- "Flower" (3:25)
- "Sunday" (5:03)
- "Memory Gospel" (6:42)
- "Whispering Wind" (6:02)
- "Summer" (5:58)
- "Spirit" (4:08)
- "Flying Foxes" (6:16)
- "Sunspot" (6:49)
- "Flying Over the Dateline" (4:47)
- "Running" (7:05)
- "The Sun Never Stops Setting" (4:19)
Ooh, lawdy now, tropin' so hard...
- Album Filler: Surprisingly averted with this album. He claims that he often creates dozens of songs - sometimes even over a hundred - for every album, and either releases the rest as B-Side compilations or trashes them all together. But most of the songs here generally fit well together.
- All or Nothing: Moby stated that if this album had not become so successful, he would have gone back to school for architecture and ditched music altogether.
- Alliterative Title: "South Side", "Whispering Wind", "Flying Foxes" and "The Sun Never Stops Setting".
- Angelic Beauty: Christina Ricci as the angel in "Natural Blues." Lawdy, she sure knows how to move those hips...
- Animated Music Video: The video for "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?", which features Moby's original character and mascot, Little Idiot.
- Break Up Song: "Porcelain":I never meant to hurt you
I never meant to lie
So this is goodbye
This is goodbye
- Concept Video: Moby recorded twelve music videos for eight singles. That's right, some singles had multiple videos.
- Cover Version: "Run On". The original song was a folk song called "God's Gonna Cut You Down", most famously done by Johnny Cash.
- Design Student's Orgasm: In the liner notes for the album, Moby included entire essays about causes in which he was interested, such as veganism, humanitarianism, and anti-fundamentalism.
- Empty Shell: "Machete", "If Things Were Perfect", and "The Sky Is Broken". These songs probably have to do a lot with his depression.
- How We Got Here: The video for "Run On". A man, depressed with his life, commits suicide. When he goes to heaven, he finds that heaven is the perfect version of his mundane life: the cute co-worker flirts with him, there's no line in front of the copy machine, and the office serves good coffee. He ends up saving a gym instructor's life when her respiratory tract becomes blocked, and gets lauded for his achievements. Of course, the video is backwards, so it ends with him committing suicide, not the other way around.
- Lighter and Softer: Play is this to the rest of Moby's discography up to that point. His previous work was almost exclusively rave, jungle and hardcore techno; and previous album Animal Rights was an Out-of-Genre Experience of hardcore punk and metal. His second album Ambient may come close to Play, but it sounds just as urgent as his previous works, whereas Play is patient with its tempos.
- Limited Lyrics Song: "Honey", "Find My Baby", "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?".
- In fact, Moby has sampled so many artists, he only has five vocal credits on the entire album: on "Porcelain", "South Side", "Machete", "If Things Were Perfect", and "The Sky Is Broken".
- The Not-Remix: "South Side" was done as a collaboration with Gwen Stefani. However, the vocals she did for the album version came out distorted, so she is completely missing from the album version; Moby is the only one who sings on it. Stefani redid her vocals for the single version, which became massively popular in part due to her credit.
- One-Word Title: The album itself, along with "Honey", "Porcelain", "Rushing", "Bodyrock", "Machete", "7", "Everloving", "Inside", "Flower", "Sunday", "Summer", "Spirit", "Sunspot", and "Running".
- Questioning Title?: "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?"
- Sampling: He mainly sampled Alan Lomax's blues recordings on this album, along with a bunch of other artists.
- "Honey" features samples from the Bessie Jones recording "Sometimes" (1960). It also samples Joe Cocker's "Woman to Woman" (1972)
- "Find My Baby" features samples from the Boy Blue recording "Joe Lee's Rock".
- "Bodyrock" contains a sample of "Love Rap" (1980) as performed by Spoonie Gee & The Treacherous Three.
- "Natural Blues" features samples from the Vera Hall recording "Trouble So Hard" (1937).
- "Run On" features samples from "Run On for a Long Time" (1949) by Bill Landford & The Landfordairs.
- "If Things Were Perfect" contains a sample of "Hospital Prelude of Love Theme" by Willie Hutch.
- "Machete" contains a sample of "Apache" by the Incredible Bongo Band.
- "Porcelain" contains a reversed sample from "Fight for Survival" by Ernest Gold.
- "The Sky Is Broken" contains a sampled drum loop from "Long As I Can See the Light" by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
- Something Blues: "Natural Blues". It's actually a remix of "Trouble So Hard", a popular song released in 1937 by Vera Hall.
- Updated Re-release: A second pressing of Play was issued with the remix of "South Side" that features No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani, and which was used in the "South Side" music video. Currently, streaming services use the original version as part of Play.