Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Top 100 Albums of the 1970s - #89 - Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)

David Bowie described them as "the band of the future," and it's not hard to see why. As the bloated and pompous progressive rock of the early seventies gave way to the stripped down futurism of the latter half of the decade, and romanticism was replaced by cynicism, Devo was a band on the cutting edge.

More than even the Ramones, Devo embraced stupidity as an aesthetic on their debut album, a hymn to the "devolution" of modern man that straddles the line between social commentary and meaningless absurdism. In this sense, this album is as "punk" as anything else on this list, helped along by the fact that the band can barely play their instruments.

Of particular note is the fact that Brian Eno agreed to produce this album. It bears little resemblance to his own work, and while his influence on Talking Heads albums at around the same time can be heard in subtle audio manipulations that give the music a rich and unique texture, here his involvement seems to have been limited to leaving the band alone and letting them do what they wanted. This is apparently more due to Devo's unwillingness to accept his ideas than any conscious effort on his part, though.

Devo is at their best when they are able to apply their blunt sound and yelped vocals to a catchy pop hook. Unfortunately, that only happens in a few places here. Space Junk, with it's high, chiming guitars is radio gold. Mongoloid is equally good, in its mundane treatment of a rather controversial topic.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album struggles to find good melodies. Jocko Homo features the iconic "Are we not men? We are Devo!" chant, but is otherwise fairly uninteresting. Gut Feeling in exciting only in that it features some clearly Eno-influenced synth parts, and the cover of the Rolling Stones' Satisfaction highlights the dumb and primitive nature of the original, but it's not as fun to listen to.

In a lot of ways, Devo embodied the New Wave movement at the end of the seventies as much as any other band. Transforming punk from antisocial caterwauling to subversiveness that was radio-friendly , complete with angular melodies, high-pitched amelodic vocals, and generally futurist mindset.

But while Devo were certainly pioneers, they were neither as catchy nor as inventive as their contemporaries and those who would come later. Ironically, the genre would continue to evolve for the better, even as the band championed devolution.

No comments:

Post a Comment