R. Stevie Moore has walked the line between consummate DIY popster and outsider artist.
For decades, the wildly prolific R. Stevie Moore has walked the line between consummate DIY popster and outsider artist, releasing more music than anyone could plausibly keep up with. In recent years a new wave of fans has joined the Moore bandwagon thanks in part to collaborations with such artists as Ariel Pink on Ku Klux Glam in 2012 and Jason Falkner on Make It Be in 2015—both of whom lent greater structure to Moore’s at times careening digressions. On his latest, Afterlife, Moore presents 14 characteristically Beatles-inspired power-pop tunes from across his career, re-recorded at various points over the past 15 years to give them a tune-up. With mastering by Shimmy Disc founder Mark Kramer, the album features a cast of contributors that includes Pink and Falkner as well as Lane Steinberg. Making good on the promise of his more disciplined work, Moore turns in an album that is satisfying from start to finish, reminding his younger peers how it’s done and presenting older work anew without falling into the trap of nostalgia.
Though longtime Moore fans might be sorry there’s not more of his signature weirdness, they should be glad that the album’s approach, suggested by its title, focuses its sights on ensuring Moore’s legacy, and so presents the material in the way most likely to reach beyond the esoteric few. The songs were selected by longtime WFMU deejay and Moore-head Irwin Chusid, well known for his support and promotion of a panoply of unconventional and perhaps unjustly obscure artists. Of course, this type of collection would not be complete without “Come My Way,” perhaps Moore’s signature song and one of the most memorable in the power pop canon. But there is so much more to Moore’s oeuvre, and more to his talent as a songwriter than the ingenious reinvention of past tropes.
The heartbreaking “Take Me Back,” in particular, is a stunning work that is all Moore—a tender, otherworldly mood pervades this song, one that is unassimilable to his influences, and which exemplifies an introspection that is often there in his work but not always readily grasped. The same is true of “The Winner,” which has some of Moore’s best lyrics, a first-person lyric by way of a third-person portrait, and the more acerbic, surreal “Another Day Slips Away.”
Throughout the album, the songs benefit from catchy and creative arrangements, from the lush horn sound of “Pop Music,” the insistent stomp of “National Debate” and the Rundgren-esque, guitar-driven “Love Is the Way to My Heart.” Compounded by the more “out there” numbers like “What Do I Do with the Rest of My Life?” and Brian Wilson pastiche “Here Comes Summer Again,” Afterlife is a brilliantly organized crash-course in the work one of our wackiest virtuosos. And for those listeners who haven’t heard a Moore album before, never fear—there’s only about 400 left to go.