In honor of the mighty Devo’s triumphant return to form with the recent release of Something For Everybody, their best studio album in over 25 years (and first in 20), it seems appropriate that we revisit their underrated debut, which is largely considered to be their masterpiece.
In honor of the mighty Devo’s triumphant return to form with the recent release of Something For Everybody, their best studio album in over 25 years (and first in 20), it seems appropriate that we revisit their underrated debut, which is largely considered to be their masterpiece. When Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo! was released in 1978, the music of Devo and its philosophy of de-evolution was already fully-formed. The band has always been just as much about conceptual art as music, and this was apparent from the very beginning. This DEVO philosophy is based on the idea that mankind is no longer evolving, but due to increased reliance on technology and mass production, has regressed into a de-evolution of sorts, marked by society’s herd mentality and uniform mechanization.
These ideas found their way into the music of Devo’s debut album in the form of jerky rhythms, atonal yet catchy melodies, jittery, nervous vocals from mastermind Mark Mothersbaugh, and the first use of the synthesizer in popular music outside of progressive rock. But unlike later albums, when Devo would increasingly rely on electronic sounds (with increasingly limited success), Are We Not Men? is a rowdy, guitar-driven affair that contains enough wound-up, spastic punk aggression to get heads-a-bangin’. The album has aged better than most of Devo’s catalog as a result, and sounds as relevant today as it did over 30 years ago. Producer Brian Eno successfully captured this band’s manic, angular songs on wax, making them clean, funky and accessible without losing their punk edge.
In other words, this album broke the punk/new wave world wide open back in 1978. While Devo’s immediate attitude fit right in with the mindless, lobotomized punk aesthetic of bands like The Ramones, the brainy concepts lurking under the surface of Devo’s music were a world unto themselves.
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Too Much Paranoias
Gut Feeling/(Slap Your Mammy)
Come Back Jonee
Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin’)
Devo’s theme song of sorts is Jocko Homo, which sums up the DEVO philosophy in a few telling lines:
They tell us that
We lost our tails, evolving up
From little snails
I say it’s all, just wind in sails
We’re pinheads now
We are not whole
We’re pinheads all
Monkey men all
In business suit
Teachers and critics
All dance the poot
Are we not men?
We are DEVO
The album opens with Uncontrollable Urge, one of their rockingest numbers. This clip from 1978 shows the Devo show at its peak. These guys were true performers.
Their brilliant cover of the Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction turns the song on its head, morphing it into a jittery, mechanized funk number of unbearable tension. Probably the greatest recorded Stones cover of all time. And check out the robotic stage antics!
The slow build-up of energy in the synth-driven instrumental Gut Feeling explodes into the spazz-out punk of Slap Your Mammy. Would have loved to have been there for this!
To close, we have Mongoloid, the most sing-along friendly number on the album, and a cautionary tale of Mr. Everyday Joe Six-Pack. LONG LIVE DEVO!