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POP MUSIC | Record Rack

MOBY; "Play"; V2; ** 1/2

May 30, 1999|MARC WEINGARTEN

Have pity on Moby. Five years ago, he was techno's poster boy, the artist who was largely responsible for pushing electronic music up from the underground. His face was plastered in countless magazines; critics lavished praise on him; and he actually sold a few records in the process. But you can only ride the crest of the zeitgeist for so long, and Moby soon found himself competing for attention with the next wave of electronic artists, some of whom (Fatboy Slim, the Chemical Brothers) knew how to manipulate their images as adroitly as their circuit boards.

Instead of trying to challenge those artists on their own turf, Moby decided to stake out new territory. The bizarre 1996 album "Animal Rights" found the New Yorker dabbling in heavy metal, but it sounded forced, like an attention-grabbing stunt. "Play" (due in stores Tuesday) encompasses a grab bag of styles: hip-hop, big beat and ambient, as well as conventional pop featuring Moby on vocals. It sounds like the product of an artist trying to reestablish his credentials, but some of the material too closely echoes the superior work of others.

Moby has landed on one nifty high-concept hook on "Play," though--constructing dance tracks using vocal samples from musical archivist Alan Lomax's vintage field recordings . On such tracks as "Honey" and "Find My Baby," Moby conjures haunting electro-soul that stops just short of gimmickry.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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