Some may think Robert Pollard the most prolific DIY artist. Not only, however, is R Stevie Moore actually the more productive artist making fuzzy sounds, but also a man who can lay claim to being the father, perhaps even the grandfather of the broadly-defined movement. Influencing everybody from Pollard to Ariel Pink, Moore’s output, which dates back to the late 1960s, is unrivaled.
With Moore’s machine-like work ethic itching to produce the pop songs that enter his mind, it’s a bit odd to listen to a so-called “compilation” of his work, as you’re probably used to listening to Moore’s records as instantaneous moments in the time of his life.
However, Personal Appeal, his latest record, is a compilation that, despite consisting of a preselected group of songs, comes across as not only still spontaneous but an effectively cohesive personal statement about his lack of mainstream success over the years.
Moore’s frustration is apparent from the get-go: he’s not LCD Soundsystem‘s James Murphy refusing to succumb to commercial playlist whims (as in You Wanted A Hit), but rather someone innocently asking, “Why can’t I write a hit?,” a phrase that’s the namesake of the album’s opening track. Why Cant I Write a Hit’s slinky bass line and generally Sixties-inspired psychedelia in addition to Moore’s twisted falsetto instantly reminds you of something off of Pink’s Mature Themes. Like Pink, Moore is also decidedly self-aware, answering his own rhetorical question by muttering, “The songs are too weird,” as the track ends. Over the course of one song, Moore travels from naivety to creepy old man assuredness, skipping Murphy’s phase entirely.
Meanwhile, Makeup Shakeup tells the tale of a woman who puts on too much rouge and powder and Moore asking more questions, this time, “Don’t you look good enough?” His vocal delivery is comparable to that of Pink’s on Kinski Assassin, but his music is orchestral and disorientingly anachronistic. Yet, on the next track, the equally weird and disquieting Old, Moore opens with distorted, bluesy guitar and adds sound effects akin to those on Pink Floyd’s Time. The musical transition from track to track on Personal Appeal, which spans Moore’s catalogue since the early ’70s, is often quite jarring, as Moore’s an artist with more phases than David Bowie. But thematically, the songs he has chosen to appear on Personal Appeal all correspond to the ideas at play as suggested by the title itself: accessibility versus the avant garde, old versus new, old age versus youth, and popularity versus under the radar status.
The more you listen to Personal Appeal, however, the more you judge it on purely musical merits: its ability to write catchy, hooky, enduring pop songs. So while nothing on Personal Appeal quite rivals the jangly catchiness of classic Moore tracks like Sort of Way, some songs come pretty close: ironically, Why Can’t I Write A Hit? and the straightforward but sneakily sticky Copy Me. In addition, some tracks succeed for their pure beauty, like Old and especially bummer The Picture, which somehow remains touching despite its lewd subject matter (Moore laments about a woman he misses and how all he has left is a naked picture of her to which he masturbates).
Overall, however, when listening to Personal Appeal – a tremendously satisfying listen nonetheless – you wonder what a Moore record might sound like if he took some time to plan or tweak his musical ideas. For an artist who ostensibly can play almost any instrument, Moore has the ability to create an immaculately composed, multi-instrumental album. Instead, for his entire career, he’s chosen quantity over quality, even if the quality level is higher than that of many of his peers.