R. Stevie Moore - Personal Appeal

by Daryl Worthington Rating:7 Release Date:2013-08-05

There's something a little amusing about R. Stevie Moore releasing a rarities and obscurities collection. The 'Grandfather of DIY' has been putting out albums on everything from vinyl to cassette since the 70s meaning he has an extensive back-catalogue, but one that is often tough to track down. He is an artist that, despite his constant and consistent output, only seems to come to the fore when somebody highlights him as an influence (most recently his kindred spirit Ariel Pink). Personal Appeal is made up of tracks he self-released on his own 'Cassette Club', meaning that these are some of the rarest of all, and even those that have tracked down his studio albums will find something new here.

Many artists have taken an influence from Moore's work, but the only one that predates it and comes close to sounding anything like him are the early albums by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Personal Appeal shows off the same joyful clashing of genres, an urge to highlight contrasts between sounds rather than smooth them out. The wry satire of life and, in particular, the music industry is also present in Moore's work.

On 'Pretend for a Second That You Are Very Intelligent', Moore attacks the staleness of rock 'n' roll, accusing it of being "constipated" over a strange lounge-jazz nursery rhyme. 'Why Can't I Write a Hit-Song' is, ironically, the catchiest song on the album, a stuttering piece of surf punk and anthem for outsiders, which simultaneously criticises the vacuous nature of record labels and reveals Moore's own frustration and insecurity without descending into self-obsessed whinging. It is this, the ability to mix the amusing with the touching, that separates Moore from Zappa, and laid the ground for acts as diverse as Pavement, Ariel Pink or Jeffrey Lewis.

On this collection, we see Moore's skill at finding beauty and sentimentality in the most unlikely of subject matters. 'The Picture' is the most touching piece of music you're ever likely to hear about voyeuristic masturbation. Built on acoustic guitar and mournful harmonica, it would in the wrong hands be a piece of disposable comedy rock. However, the depiction of clinging to a naughty photograph of an ex girlfriend ("All I can do is look at your privates in a book") somehow becomes genuinely moving, capturing the kind of response to heartbreak that most artists don't care to acknowledge. The orchestral synth stabs of 'I've Begun to Fall in Love' sound like post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys, a sudden piece of beautiful sunburnt pop that is the most unexpected track on the album, simply because it is such a simple, pretty piece of music, and shows the sheer versatility of Moore's composition and production skills.

Personal Appeal serves as a reminder that homemade, DIY music doesn't have to be an excuse for laziness. Some artists will take a similar aesthetic to Moore, but create music that is essentially just a more shambolic version of mainstream pop. This collection, however, shows versatility, ambition and a unique vision, using the home studio as an opportunity to experiment without the constraints of paying for studio time. The theatrical strings of 'Makeup Shakeup' makes it sound like it could come from a Broadway musical. 'Quarter Peep Show' is a banjo-led bluegrass hoedown with multi-tracked and echo-laden vocals. Throughout, it's clear Moore is a hugely talented musician and producer, but these skills are never overly indulged, instead being used to create Moore's surrealist take on popular culture.

It's rare to get a compilation album that will have value as much to people who've already got an artist's studio albums as to those who've never heard of them. The selection and sequencing of the tracks makes the whole thing hang together as an album in its own right, and one is left with a lovely set of off-kilter pop songs as well as nice historical document of the madcap experiments of a genuine eccentric.

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