[Review] Devo: E-Z Listening Disc (1987)

The band’s two mail-order muzak cassettes now available on one disc for your shopping convenience.

Kronomyth 6.5: Dove in an elevator.

In the early 1980s, Devo records included a mail-order form where you could buy various Devo merch including cassette EPs featuring muzak versions of Devo’s songs by Devo. Once you realized they weren’t kidding, your mind would inevitably conjure up what a muzak version of Devo might sound like. I expected it to be sarcastic and simplistic, the result of one drunken afternoon in the studio featuring one or two players. I was wrong.

E-Z Listening Disc combines the two original muzak EPs and makes them easily available for the first time. On the one hand, of course, this is a very silly disc. The band clearly delights in poking fun at their own legacy while playing up the playful melodies in their music. On the other hand, the band clearly understands that muzak is the final phase of musical de-evolution, and so they take the matter of devolving their catalog seriously by presenting thoughtful re-arrangements of the originals. In other words, they didn’t just play a few simple notes of Whip It on a fuzzy-sounding synth and wrap it up with a rhythm computer. These are re-inventions of the originals for a different medium, a kind of perpetual “what if we?” that thumbs its way through the band’s back catalog with glee.

Although the experiment is consistently effective, some songs lend themselves to the muzak treatment better than others. Swelling Itching Brain, Mongoloid, Pity You, It’s a Beautiful World and the material from Shout are highlights. While Devo fans will definitely want to check it out, this is the most un-Devo record they’ve ever made. At times, it sounds like They Might Be Giants (Jerkin’ Back and Forth) or even Tangerine Dream (Girl U Want) as the band steps out of their electronic comfort zone. It’s the enigma of Devo that they could take their music seriously while seeming to take nothing seriously. E-Z Listening Disc is perhaps the best example of this: a joke where the punchline is our own preconception of what constitutes serious music.

The Songs

1. Gates of Steel (2:55)
2. Girl U Want (4:58)
3. Come Back Jonee (3:10)
4. Whip It (2:58)
5. That’s Good (3:36)
6. Jerkin’ Back and Forth (3:09)
7. 4th Dimension (4:49)
8. Shout (Hello Kitty) (4:09)
9. Mongoloid (5:05)
10. Pity You (3:23)
11. Going Under (3:06)
12. Swelling, Itching Brain (4:12)
13. Jurisdiction of Luv (3:41)
14. Peek ‘A’ Boo (4:26)
15. Satisfaction (4:09)
16. Space Junk (2:38)
17. Time Out for Fun (3:21)
18. It’s a Beautiful World (3:12)
19. Jocko Homo (3:35)

The Players

Bob Casale, Gerald V. Casale, Alan Meyers, Bob Mothersbaugh, Mark Mothersbaugh. Produced and recorded by DEVO; digital processing by WDS Labs/Hank Waring; digital consultant: Dr. Toby Mountain.

The Plastic

Released on compact disc in August 1987 in the US and Japan (Rykodisc, RCD-20031).

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