In the age of streaming, artists are having to come up with new spins on the now-redundant traditional greatest hits package. Moby has opted to go down the route of giving a collection of his songs orchestral and acoustic reworks, Radio 3-splaining his back catalogue with help from the Budapest Arts Orchestra and a multitude of guests including Alice Skye, Amythyst Kiah and Gregory Porter.
While some of the tracks – like a plaintive, mournful take on the once-ubiquitous ‘Porcelain’, culled from his blockbusting ‘Play’ album and featuring My Morning Jacket’s Jim James – feel more subdued than the originals, digging into their muted melancholy, others – such as ‘Natural Blues’ and ‘Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?’, both from that same 1999 record, ramp up the cinematic grandeur, enlisting gospel choirs and sweeping strings to decent effect.
A reimagining of his 1991 rave calling-card ‘Go’ is perhaps the most radical symphonic makeover, transforming its club anthemics with dynamic tribal drumming which comes on like a fight between The Lion King and James Bond soundtracks. Best of all is ‘The Lonely Night’, which sees an overlooked folktronica track from his 2013 album ‘Innocents’ emerge as the record’s highlight, Kris Kristofferson joining original vocalist Mark Langdon for wizened vocal duties. On the flipside, there’s a ghastly slowed-down take on his late friend David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ featuring the Luna Li, awash with breathiness and vocal fry, which sounds like it should be soundtracking a John Lewis Christmas advert – and serves to remind you that Moby was once known as ‘Mr. Advertising’ due to the marketing decision to licence every one of ‘Play’’s tracks for use on commercials.
One of the problems of ‘Reprise’ is it does have the chin-stroking feel of a BBC Last Night at the Proms/Manchester International Festival curio arts commission. There was a time when Moby couldn’t be more associated with middle-aged dinner party music without the track names being called ‘Their Dad Has The Kids This Weekend, Do You Have The Number For a Dealer?’ and ‘How DO You Get Your Lamb So Moist? Mine Usually Ends Up Claggy’, which led to the anodyne tag that dogged him for decades. By drilling down to the compositional basics of his songs and then divesting them of their interesting production flourishes, he perversely makes them feel more like aural wallpaper.
Overall, ‘Reprise’ is full of dignified reworkings that don’t offer too many surprises, which – given he’s still weathering the backlash that greeted his 2019 memoir Then It Fell Apart – is perhaps the point.
Release date: May 28
Record label: Deutsche Grammophon