Something of a throwback during this era of R. Stevie Moore's career, 1981's Pop Pain is a strictly one-man-band affair, written and recorded in the space of a week, with no guest appearances. Like Moore's classic, mid-'70s work, Pop Pain is the sound of a man alone with a room full of instruments and a tape recorder. (The liner notes mention that Moore's then-girlfriend was in the U.K. during that week, which probably accounts for both the speed of creation and the downcast album title.) A somewhat muddy-sounding, keyboard-heavy collection of moody, semi-ambient instrumentals and largely minor-key pop songs, Pop Pain is full of small gems largely unknown even to serious R. Stevie Moore fans. In particular, the heartbreaking "Birds in My Tree" is a minor masterpiece of winsome, high-register vocals and yearning lyrics set to an appealingly rinky-dink rhythm box and the sort of multiply-overdubbed, processed guitars that have been a trademark of Moore's musical style all along, while "Fireworks for a Living" sets a dub-influenced, bass-driven rhythm and a weedy keyboard melody against the sound of live fireworks recorded at a Fourth of July celebration, sounding like some kind of collaboration between Brian Eno and Lee "Scratch" Perry. Fans should also be interested in the first appearance of "Eating Paper, Drinking Ink," which would go on to become a staple of Moore's live sets throughout the '80s.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason