Like Lo Fi High Fives, Personal Appeal might not be a “best of” per se, but it is certainly a good entry point for those who have been daunted by R. Stevie Moore’s massive and impressive back catalogue.
Personal Appeal by R. Stevie Moore. Care in the Community Records.
By Austen R. Walsh.
“I have really been more than ever going into my back catalogue, which is part of my story: I have 400 albums, and people say ‘That’s impossible! Are they all good?’” asked lo-fi veteran R. Stevie Moore in a talk with Pitchfork last year. He is obviously on a quest to have that question answered. At the time of the interview, the sexagenarian was promoting his ambitious compilation project, Lo Fi High Fives…..A Kind Of Best Of. It was essentially a career-spanning effort, covering every era in his eclectic, 40-year career save for the ’60s. As its subtitle would suggest, it was “kind of” a greatest hits album, but that term doesn’t really apply to an artist as prolific as Moore. He went on to explain to Pitchfork, “I’ve been home recording since 1966 . . . I’m always recording: good stuff, bad stuff. I don’t really try to rank the best over the worst because I love bad music and a lot of my fans love bad music.”
Personal Appeal, the latest offering from Moore, appears to be in the same vein as last year’s Lo Fi High Fives and coincides with the reissue of two of his most significant albums, Delicate Tension and Glad Music. However, this new compilation covers a decidedly smaller portion of his career—the earliest material hails from 1973, the latest from 2001. The result is a collection of tracks that is a bit more consistent than the earlier album, though inevitably less “best of-ish.”
The LP begins on an amusing note with “Why Can’t I Write a Hit?” taken from his 1984 DIY epic, Everything. The song has a zingy, new wave sound, with the musician ruminating in his inability to write “a hit.” The song’s upbeat instrumentation and Moore’s bouncy singing give it all the cosmetic makings of “a hit” until the track’s latter half, which self-consciously deconstructs via guitar noodling and an eerie voice repeating “the songs are too weird” in answer to the title question.
The following track, “Makeup Shakeup,” marks an abrupt tonal shift—the first of many on the disc. Here, Moore’s husky voice is set against an elegant, Victorian string arrangement to great effect. A brief piano coda gives way to the swirling, psychedelic hymn “Old,” in which Moore muses about the wages of aging in a voice deliberately mired in reverb. This theme is reinforced by the ringing and chiming clocks that increasingly engulf the song as it progresses.
“Structure of Love” is an easygoing instrumental, aside from a brief, admittedly hard-to-discern spoken-word part towards the end. Its crunchy guitars build to a surprisingly satisfying climax, lending it an almost post-rock quality. This fleeting moment of grandeur is followed by the earnest folk number “The Picture.” The song’s simple duo of acoustic guitar and harmonica—in tandem with Moore’s tender vocal performance—exudes a raw, affecting power.
Then comes the twangy country cut, “Quarter Peep Show.” Yes, it is incredibly kitschy, but despite that Moore manages to come across as utterly sincere in this excursion into Americana. The next song, “I’ve Begun to Fall in Love,” is a staggering synth dirge, generating the greatest tonal discrepancy between any two tracks in the collection. However, this is easily one of the most powerful tracks of the bunch—Moore’s forlorn vocals have an angelic, Beach Boys-esque quality to them.
The compilation’s two greatest curiosities are back-to-back. “Pretend for a Second That You Are Very Intelligent” is a piece of weirdo electro-pop that fades out with a wonky, synth jam freakout–the whole thing smacks of Devo. “Forecast” is a breezy, cowbell-laden send-up of rockabilly, with Moore’s vocal cadence oddly reminiscent of the vocals to a skipping rhyme or work song.
“No Body,” “What We Did,” “Treat Me,” and “Copy of Me” are Moore’s usual brand of outsider rock—the latter pair stand out because they’re accented with brass. “Man Without a Purpose,” a grainy, spaced-out synth odyssey, is the disc’s longest track at a little over four minutes. Interestingly, the collection closes with its shortest piece, “I’m Sorry but Goodnight,” a woozy acoustic guitar ballad that makes for an effective finale despite being under a minute and a half.
Like Lo Fi High Fives, Personal Appeal might not be a “best of” per se, but it is certainly a good entry point for those who have been daunted by Moore’s massive back catalog. Hopefully this disc, as well as its predecessor, will inspire listeners to take the plunge because much of Moore’s material is well worth exploring. Thankfully, given the success of lo-fi musicians like Ariel Pink and John Maus (both of whom name Moore as an enormous influence), there are signs that some in the indie music world are already diving in. Responding to the question, “Why now?” in the above mentioned Pitchfork interview, Moore exulted, “Finally things have come around. I guess I’ve paid my dues, because so many years, so many recordings . . . The joke is I’m just getting started . . .”
Austen R. Walsh is a BU COM student and a contributor to The Needle Drop. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.