The vice-like grip that orchestras held on the cultural firmament may have loosened many decades ago, but it lives on in the egos of musicians like Moby. They want to connect themselves to a grand tradition, and a part of them may even ponder idly whether their work will be remembered like Mozart’s or Handel’s.
In Moby’s case, the results of this live reimagining, a sort of downtempo, orchestrally rerecorded Best Of, are mixed. Natural Blues (featuring Gregory Porter and Amythyst Kiah) and Go kick things off nicely, with impassioned vocal performances on the former and a suitably muscular rhythm section on the latter, but there is something irresistible about Porcelain’s sampled strings that the real instruments just can’t match, even with Jim James on board.
The same issue hampers Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad, on which the gospel choir do their best but fail to capture the euphoria of the retriggered “these open doors” sample.
We Are All Made Of Stars is perhaps the most sonically interesting version, playing up the slight jazziness of the song’s chords and lending a contemplative air to the lyrics. Lift Me Up’s new rendition, meanwhile, actually transcends the original with the help of some nifty vocal looping and distortion effects, but these songs are sandwiched between quite a lot of filler. While nice to hear again, God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters contains nothing that the Heat-accompanying original doesn’t already have, and the same goes for tedious 18 interlude The Great Escape.
Some bold, counter-intuitive song choices might have worked better. Why not Machete, or All That I Need Is To Be Loved, or even Thousand? The challenge of transposing tracks like these could produce a brilliant chaos.
But, as it is, Reprise offers a pleasant, even graceful but ultimately insubstantial retrospective of an artist who can be fascinating when he’s not overly focused on his pleasant, insubstantial brand.