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26 June 2012

Devo - 'Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!' (Warner Bros)

A great detail of the creepy cover art is that the hat of this über-man says "ACTUAL SIZE" on it. I love early Devo. What a brilliant, incredible fucking band, and what makes it even greater is that they're still at it, and have lived their concept to fruition. Ryko put out some CDs called Hardcore Devo back in the 90s, which were culled from sessions and demos recorded before this album - it's some of their most brilliant and fractured music, and I wish a vinyl version existed (update: the first volume came out as a French fanclub release!). Devo is a wolf in sheep's clothing; though they are remembered for their pop success and the quirk/novelty factor, they're truly one a dedicated and furious group of art radicals. The Hardcore stuff really makes that clear as much of it seems sexist and stupid but is really just truly misanthropic. Elements of that certainly remained by the time they made it to the major label here ('Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin')' being one such track, and of course 'Uncontrollable Urge') but there's an undeniable pop fury which strangely presaged edgy new wave music while not having anything to do with that stuff. The discordant basslines and meandering guitar licks are not a million miles away from what Talking Heads were doing at the time, though it's more fragmented; but I think Mothersbaugh's distinctive yelp, surely the most identifiable feature of Devo, is also remniscent of Byrne's. I like Talking Heads but it's silly to compare them, and they don't hold a candle to Devo. This is a work of utter genius, a truly subversive pop record that after 30+ years is still a pretty distinctive vision. Side two opens up with two of Devo's greatest numbers, also showing both of their sides. 'Too Much Paranoias' is a bit of No Wave insanity and then 'Gut Feeling' is a triumphant and powerful ascent through the gates of heavenly melody. Most of the Devo classics are found on this album or the next, save 'Whip It' -- 'Mongoloid', 'Jocko Homo', and 'Come Back Jonee' for example are found here. The cover of 'Satisfaction' is far more than novelty - it follows from the masturbation epic 'Uncontrollable Urge' and reduced the pyrotechnics of rock to latent, broken bursts. Eno produced this record, and it's surprisingly 'rock' - Eno was clearly smart enough to emphasise Devo's best asset, which was their prowess as a musical unit. This actually could sound far more futuristic, but Devo were anything but futurists - it's really about the earth starting to corkscrew backwards, fueled by hatred of man's civilisation.

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