R. Stevie Moore released nine albums, including the double-disc career retrospective Everything You Always Wanted to Know About R. Stevie Moore But Were Afraid to Ask, between 1976 and 1988. For most artists, that would be plenty, but Moore is so wildly prolific that he wrote and recorded literally hundreds of other songs during this period, self-releasing them on an endless stream of hand-dubbed cassettes. The 1990 release Has-Beens and Never-Weres gathers 16 of these songs, from 1975's McCartney-esque "Love Is the Way to My Heart" to 1989's minimalist joke "Bonus Track (LP Only)." The album's primary flaw is a very poor mastering job that gives all the songs a muffled, distant quality, even at high volume. This is particularly a problem on delicate acoustic material like the otherwise lovely "I Will Want to Die." Overlook that problem and this is a fine, albeit low-key, set of tunes. Neither as pop-friendly as Everything nor as deliberately abrasive as 1985's Verve, the material here tends to focus on examples of Moore's not-quite-commercial gift for skewed but accessible songcraft. Tunes like the atmospheric "I'm Out of My Mind," a wispy seven-plus minute piece of acoustic ambience featuring several barely audible tape-looped vocals, couldn't hit the charts if Elton John and Madonna dueted on a cover version, but it and the Todd Rundgren-like "Near Tonight" are quintessential Moore. The quirky white-boy funk of "Skin Mags" and the Parliament-meets-A Certain Ratio "Sit Down" show off an appealingly different side of Moore, while the inexplicable "Banana Jerseyjam" and a tribute to the Residents are examples of his avant-garde streak. Aside from the frankly terrible sound, the only real problem with Has-Beens and Never-Weres is that, as consistently fine as it is, it lacks any of the dozens of drop-dead perfect pop songs Moore has written over the years. But even though it's a collection of R. Stevie Moore's B+ material, this trumps some artists' primo stuff.
AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason