Kronomyth 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.
“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 powerlessness, 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).
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 cleaned-up 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.