Category Archives: Devo

Devo Discography

“I think Devo may be the most misunderstood band ever to show up on the planet.” – Gerald Casale, in a 1984 interview with Charlie Rose.

Devo was one of the most important art-rock bands to emerge in the Seventies. By the time they released their first album, Q: Are We Not Men?, the band’s strange theory of de-evolution was already in mid-mutation. Of course, de-evolution was really just the next phase of the rock & roll revolution, which both cannibalized its founders and replaced the laws and mores of the past with new beliefs. Fortunately for us, the band used flower pots and potatoes to get their point across, rather than tanks and prisons.

Devo’s first four albums are absolutely essential. Oh No! It’s Devo began to show signs that the machines had taken over (the videos were far more interesting than the music), and everything from Shout onward suggested a band going through the mechanical motions. In the 1990s, Mark Mothersbaugh made the transition to film and television scores, including Rugrats and The LEGO Movie.

It is admittedly difficult to draw a line between “Uncontrollable Urge” and Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs without introducing the idea of a commercial sellout or softening with age. Yet revolution is a transitional state, not one of permanence, and Devo had brought the revolution full circle from chaos to mind control within their first four or five records. As with Kraftwerk, their clearest precedent, Devo’s unrevolutionary stance in later years isn’t a sign of defeat, but rather that the war had already been won with remarkable efficiency.

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[Review] Devo: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)

Anal is the word. They were a terrifying group of people to work with because they were so unable to experiment.” – Brian Eno.

Kronomyth 1.0: ARE WE ENO MEN? WE ARE DEVO! Twenty years after rock & roll helped stir a social revolution, Devo presented us with our own social de-evolution. No less a luminary than David Bowie believed Devo to be the future of music. I was thirteen years old when Q: Are We Not Men? came out, and bought it based solely on the Brian Eno production credit (I was a big Bowie fan from an early age). I still remember listening to it rapturously on the car ride home with my brother and father, neither of whom shared my enthusiasm. Forty years later, this record still gives me goosebumps. Art is never created in a vacuum, though you could argue that Akron, Ohio was a kind of vacuum, shielded from the local influences that informed the music of Talking Heads and Gang of Four. (Meanwhile, several states away, The B-52s were creating similar music in new Athens.) Devo’s debut album sounded like nothing I had heard before: white aggro funk mixed with elements of punk, pop and post-modernism, presented as a tongue-in-cheek critique of an idealized Amerika. Although Devo unveils their manifesto on “Jocko Homo,” it’s the opening “Uncontrollable Urge” that best sums up the band’s approach, as if all their repressed sexual energy were manifested as music. (Their earliest recordings seem to bear this out.) The songs of Q: Are We Not Men? represent the cream of the spud crop from the last few years: “Jocko Homo,” “Mongoloid” and their herky-jerky rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Also included here are such minor classics as “Space Junk,” “Gut Feeling,” “Shrivel-Up” and “Come Back Jonee.” There isn’t a single track on here that doesn’t poke your brain in pleasant places. Despite the tantalizing presence of Eno, it seems a true collaboration wasn’t in the cards, and any influence he had on the final product was minimal; this is Devo’s album from beginning to end. Subsequent albums would re-hash the same ideas even as it all devolved into Kraftwerkian robot music (some of which, such as New Traditionalists, was still quite revolutionary). In 2009, a complete live performance of Q: Are We Not Men? was appended to the original album, underscoring just how ahead of its time Devo has always been. Perhaps it will be up to future generations to decode it all.

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Devo: Freedom of Choice (1980)

freedom of choice album coverKronomyth 3.0: THE FETTER OF A GREATER FREEDOM. (I), O (O), U… an apology for my first review of Freedom. The record always sounded mechanical to me. But then it clicked: this was the robot revolution we’d been warned about. It was Buddy Hologram and Roy Orbitron singing about picking up chicks and putting down the human race. Yes, it’s a cold record, but Devo wants you to make the chilling discovery that you and rock & roll are dead. No more hugs and kisses; Devo has distilled the chemical that makes you feel loved and they’re shooting it directly into your veins through a tiny steel tube. On the opening “Girl U Want,” desire is a malfunction (compare this to “Uncontrollable Urge”). “It’s Not Right” and “Ton O’ Luv” are songs about strong emotions that have been completely stripped of emotion. As I said, pretty deep stuff, and I’m surprised I missed that on the first go ‘round. Then there are the crazed pop songs that channel Devo’s inner monkey: “Freedom of Choice,” “Whip It,” “Mr. B’s Ballroom.” Fun stuff from a band that could write a good guitar hook when they weren’t busy putting one in your mouth. There are a few cold tracks that go nowhere (a harbinger of Oh No! It’s Devo), but a good half of Freedom is classic Devo. As for the silly flower pots, forget ‘em. Devo was planting the seeds of revolution with their music not their fashion. Freedom of Choice does sound mechanical, but that’s the whole idea. This is revolution without a trace of emotion, where slogans are simply passwords to a preprogrammed response. Not the kind of stuff to whip you into a frency on the first listen, but over time it does have a snowball effect.

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Devo: “Whip It” (1980)

I winced every time I saw VH1 trot out its One-Hit Wonders show, knowing that Devo’s name was on the roll call. Or maybe it was because William Shatner was out of uniform. If this is how most people remember Devo, then we’re doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. You can’t fault the video or the song, since both are in line with Devo’s A/V revolution. Yet the two seem to speak to different songs: the audio component conjures positive thinking taken to a primitive conclusion, while the video is a misogynistic nightmare. The single sold over 500,000 copies in the US alone, and I doubt all but a handful of them fell into knowledgeable hands. The B side is “Turn Around,” a nonalbum track that admonishes us to step outside and take a good look at ourselves. It’s got a slightly punk edge, which Nirvana seized upon for an unexpected cover on Insecticide. That’s right, a song that wasn’t good enough to make it onto a Devo album was deemed good enough to end up on a Nirvana album. Get over it.

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Devo: “That’s Good” (1982)

that's good 7 inch single“Music is good, not evil. Poetry is good, not evil. Primitive, but oh, so true.” – Dmitri Shostakovich

Kronomyth 5.2: IN THE TIME OF ORAL GRAVE GRAVE LEGALITIES OF HATE. A pervading sense of powerlessness informs Oh, No! It’s Devo. You hear that on songs like “Speed Racer,” where dangerous stereotypes are already impressed upon children, or “What I Must Do,” where autonomy is replaced by automatons. Even the music felt powerless, as machines drained the blood and emotion from their muse. “That’s Good,” the second single from Devo’s fifth album, tackles the problem of how each society defines and reinforces its own concept of good. At least that’s always been my takeaway. Echoing “Freedom of Choice,” the audience seems to have no power (or preference) over whether it accepts or rejects this definition; learning to do with and without good things are both proposed with equal force. It’s a deep theme (Devo songs often are), deceptively performed with mechnical ennui, but these are life-and-death matters. The song was edited slightly for the 7-inch single and expanded for the 12-inch single. The 12-inch “extended” version is simply more of the same; no radical remixing takes place. A 12-inch picture disc single (available in two different picture versions) features an extended version of “Speed Racer” (another lap around the track, I would imagine).

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Devo: Shout (1984)

Oh, no! It’s even lamer than their last album. Maybe it’s all part of the Devo gameplan: strike a revolutionary pose in the beginning, shrink from it in the end. If that’s the case, Shout shows admirable shrinkage, flailing for show with a limp noodle against the towers of traditional rock in a tame retelling of Jimi Hendrix’ “Are You Experienced?” and seeming all too satisfied with itself. For those who might have missed them the first time, Devo were the original killer clowns from outer space, threatening to overthrow the status quo with dangerous dogma like “Jocko Homo” and (more recently) “Through Being Cool.” That seems a long way removed from the domesticated musings of “C’mon” and “Please Please.” Even the better tracks—“The 4th Dimension,” “Jurisdiction of Love,” “Here To Go”—just don’t get my dander up the way a good Devo song should. I noticed the decline with “Peek-A-Boo!,” a song that should have been terrifying (the video was) but instead seemed like an empty threat. “Shout,” “The Satisfied Mind” and “Puppet Boy” are even emptier; they still make fun of the human condition, but sarcasm is no substitute for social change. At least this sort of predictable decline makes purchasing Devo albums an easy process: start at the beginning and, if you make it this far, you’re a Devo fan (or a fool). Tellingly, the band disappeared for a few years, resurfacing on a minor label and no longer on the big commercial radar screen. It’s worth noting, however, that my dissatisfaction is relative to the band’s original groundbreaking work. If you’re the sort of listener who soaked up The B-52’s nonsense just for the fun of it, then there’s fun to be had on Shout as well. But you didn’t hear it from me.

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Devo: Hardcore Vol. 1 74-77 (1990)

Kronomyth 8.1: HI-FI SYSTEMS MEN IN PAIRS TAPE BODIES FALLING DOWN THE STAIRS. If I could travel back in time and change one moment in history, I would sign Devo to a record contract in 1975 and accelerate our de-evolution. I’d leave Adolf Hitler and Mark David Chapman to the other time travellers who don’t understand you can’t stop the crazy, you can only speed it up. Hardcore Volume One collects early Devo demos that prefigure their first album with Brian Eno. Listening to this music today, it’s tempting to imagine what might have been. Instead of “New Rose” and “God Save The Queen,” the punk revolution might have started on our own soil with “Jocko Homo” and “Uglatto.” I’m not saying that Devo was the only band making music like this; that would mean erasing Brian Eno, Sparks, John Cale, Captain Beefheart and a whole bunch of other important figures from history. But those artists were approaching their art from a largely intellectual perspective (well, who knows where Beefheart was coming from…), while Devo is approaching it from a primal one. The songs are driven by the Id: sex, shame, survival. At the same time, the early music of Devo makes you think. With the simple twist of one word, Devo can turn robot slaves into a robot army (“Mechanical Man”), or turn our own minds against us (“Social Fools”). I’m not the first person to point out that de-evolution doesn’t end pretty, but it started out beautifully. You know you’ve been hankering for a second helping of “Satisfaction” ever since you heard it. Hardcore Volume One is a cold banquet for the starving masses. Dig in and devolve all over again.

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Devo: Greatest Misses (1990)

In case you missed it the first time, this is some of the more revolutionary music to ever insinuate itself on a piece of grooved plastic. Greatest Misses is the companion compilation to Greatest Hits (yes, that’s right, he wrote “hits” with an “s”), focusing on the groundbreaking, mindbending material that graced their first two elpees. A few tracks appear in their early Booji Boy Versions, including “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and the wonderful “Be Stiff.” Sometimes, I wish they could leave the past well enough alone, but Devo’s past is still our future as these tracks make perfectly plain. Few bands were ever as misunderstood or unappreciated in their own time as Devo. That “Whip It” of all things would define the band remains one of the great cosmic jokes. Anyone who heard their debut album couldn’t mistake the band for anything less than fearless revolutionaries. “Too Much Paranoias,” “Jocko Homo” and “Shrivel-Up” were death-dealing blows to the status quo. How could you give a crap about Hall & Oates after hearing “Clockout” or “Mongoloid?” Of course, the world at large may not want to be reminded that they’re a race of monkey-spanking monkeys by guys wearing flower pots and toilet seats, but I’ve been down with the devolutionary talk from day one. The only knock I have on the Misses is that it’s redundant for anyone who owns the first two albums (and, really, everyone should). I’d pay ten bucks just to hear “Be Stiff,” and the non-album “Penetration in the Centrefold” is a wild departure, but the real story starts at the beginning and doesn’t get around to the Greatest Anything until the end. Even here at the end, however, you still have to admire the view.

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