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Formed in 1973 in Ohio, Devo is short for De-Evolution, based on the idea that the human race is regressing. Evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society. They are most famous their satirical social commentary, new wave sound and as pioneers of music video. Their big break came in 1976 with their film 'The Truth about De-Evolution' which was seen by Iggy Pop and David Bowie. Their influences include Krautrock, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and Tonto's Expanding Headband.
Both albums feature Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob Mothersbaugh (Bob 1), Gerald Casale, Bob Casale (Bob 2) all playing keyboards, guitar and vocals and Alan Myers on drums, but other intermittent members of the band include Bob Lewis, Peter Gregg, Fred Webber, Rob Weisman, Jim Mothersbaugh, Josh Fresse, David Kendrick and Neil Taylor.
'Duty for the Future', Devo's second album was released in 1979 though most of the album had been a staple of their live set since 1976/77.
The early 80s saw Devo taking a new direction with instrumentation that is almost entirely synthetic. Their forth studio album 'New Traditionalists' was released in 1981 and was the first time they made use of drum machines and, like the last album, had the synthesisers taking control while the more subdued guitars took to the background. Contrary to their earlier offerings the lyrics lack irony and wit and settle for the dark and vitriolic.
This pairing was released in the UK in 1993 and featured 'Working at the Coalmine' as an added bonus.
Devo Corporate Anthem (Mark Mothersbaugh)
A triumphant fanfare for the geek. This track reminds me of the soundtrack used for 'A Clockwork Orange'. It sounds like a grand classical tune played on a Casio keyboard. It's also very 80s sounding. A delightful mix of grand made basic and cheesy.
Clockout (Gerald Casale)
'I got my head down to my lungs and move my feet
Me I got all the secretaries down on their knees'
Opening on a fast drum roll, this track moves quickly into a bizarre cross between 80s pop and a computer game sound track. There are frequent changes of pace, lead by the guitar, mixing traditional pop riffs with a background of bizarre sound effects. The 'oh so excited' vocals lose their fast pace when it comes to the chorus.
Timing X (Mark Mothersbaugh)
This track opens on a cute keyboard melody with is picked up in a lower pitch. The percussion comes in light at first, but slowly becomes more prominent as a guitar and sound effects are moved in. On the whole the track appears to be going somewhere, but never gets there. The guitar becomes prominent seconds before the end when it is cut short.
Wiggly World (Bob Mothersbaugh, Mark Mothersbaugh)
'So wiggle on the bottom, wiggle on the top
Wiggle up the middle and laugh a lot'
'Wiggly World' has a clean and artificial sound with sound effects and prominent and rather strange guitar riff. It has the overall effect of sounding like a child's song apart from the more intricate guitar. The vocals manage to be aggressive and wimpy at the same time, resulting in a rather silly song that makes the listener smile or at least try to work out what the lyrics mean. There are frequent changes in rhythm and pace and random pauses that make the track run awkwardly, especially towards the end where it speeds up. The final chorus is elongated to act as an outro.
Blockhead (Bob Mothersbaugh, Mark Mothersbaugh)
'Never trips over, stands up on his own
He is a blockhead, thinking man full grown
He comes well prepared.'
A basic melody lead by the keyboard and bass changing the pitch pattern. There is little change throughout the track as the percussion sets the pace. The composition is simple with each verse rising in pitch as the keyboard and guitar speed up. The guitar comes through during the bridge for a rock based solo. The chorus features disjointed staccato vocals descending in pitch with little instrumentation behind it, merely a single keyboard note keeping pace. Abrupt and unthoughtful ending.
Strange Pursuit (Gerald Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh)
'I've taken my mind apart
And lost some of the pieces'
Lead by a fast paced 80s synthesizer, the vocals have little to no melody. Each line of the verses is punctuated by a bizarre ascending melody that is then played end to end for the outro with a barely distinguishable gentle cymbal percussion to soften the sound. The chorus is so fast that the words run into each other.
SIB (Swelling Itchy Brain) (Mark Mothersbaugh)
'Got a nervous kinda feeling
Got a painful yellow headache'
This track kicks off with some eerie synthesised notes that are soon joined by some eerie chords, but this just gives it a cartoon feel (I get images of Bowser's Castle in 'Mario Cart'). Once the squeaky geek vocals kick in, it just descends into single notes and sound effects that mark the end of each line. For the majority of the track there are fast paced vocals backed by vague percussion, bass riff and keyboard sound effects. There is a simple melody that is picked up by a second layer. After the introduction there is a tension building pitch change as the melody becomes slower. The whole track builds up into a climax for the outro where it breaks up into simplified notes.
Triumph of the Will (Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale)
'When the well cries out for water
It has a need that must be filled'
Mark Deming said this track "Embraces fascism as a satirical target without bothering to make it sound like they disapprove." It sees a return to the grand 'Casio keyboard' music with vocals to match. This time they are deeper and some how more sensible than the usual geeky sound, but set against the crazy instrumentation around a simple composition it ridicules the subject matter.
The Day My Baby Gave me a Surprise (Mark Mothersbaugh)
'I jumped with the joy of a grateful boy
The day my baby gave me a surprise'
This track is introduced by simple vocals and percussion that carries over to a simple bass and guitar playing in the background. The composition is simple with a muted guitar giving the whole piece a sweet and gentle mood. Where a chorus would be there is a synthesised xylophone melody (a slightly elongated version of the fillers between verses) with hummed vocals which is then repeated for the outro. It ends like they just slowly ran out of ideas.
Pink Pussycat (Mark Mothersbaugh)
'Pink pussycat, I'll sleep inside you
Pink pussycat, I'll lick you clean'
This completely mental track opens with a funky riff from the guitar and bass with chord based pitch changes and percussion keeping the fast pace. The long introduction has a fast paced simple riff that threatens to run out of control. There is little doubt what this song is actually about with the less than subtle sexual innuendos. There is very little melody and lots production on the female vocals to make them sound inhuman, while the male vocals are plain bizarre and chorused. After a slow wind down it ends on a drum roll.
Secret Agent Man (P F Sloan, Steve Barri, arrangement Mark Mothersbaugh)
'Beware of the pretty faces you find
A pretty face can hide an evil mind'
The opening bass riff has a very 70s feel reminiscent to me of the old Batman theme tune. The vocals are more grown up, but there are still lots of guitar effects. The outro features more normal guitar work. Given the rest of the album is so bizarre, this track sounds relatively more traditional and main stream. The chorus feels very 70s inspired with it composition and sing-along quality. The bridge features a fiddly guitar solo, followed by a keyboard chord solo, while the bass keeps it all together with the original riff.
Smart Patrol / Mr DNA (Gerald Casale, mark Mothersbaugh / Mark Mothersbaugh)
'Mr Kamikaze, Mr DNA
He's an altruistic pervert'
An energetic song with bizarre lyrics and percussion backed by what appears to be an alien laser gun. The lyrics for the first half are written in first person with alternate lines between the protagonist and a chorus. The vocals sound a little panicky, though the words seem to make no sense. There is a melodic bridge from the guitar which descends into sound effects building tension and expectation for the transition to Mr. DNA, which is even paced with little melody. The percussion, that has remains steady throughout Smart Patrol comes into its own for Mr DNA, setting the pace for the rest of the band. The guitar tries to join, but finds it difficult with no melody to follow. The track slows down for a final burst of the riff before finishing.
Red-Eye Express (Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale)
'Long time no sugar
And it's starting to hurt'
This track starts slowly, but soon builds into a fast paced, joyful track whose relentless energy is pushed on by the percussion. There is a catchy keyboard melody that is followed by the guitar in a lower pitch. The brief pauses in between choruses merely build up to the next. The verse lines use a similar tool leading up to the chorus punctuating the end of each line with tension building guitar chords. The composition is simple with the outro formed of just one repeated note. The silly, but none the less enjoyable chorus is easy to pick up and is one of those tracks that stick with you for the day.
Through Being Cool (Bob Mothersbaugh, Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale)
'Eliminate the ninnies and the twits
Going to bang some heads'
A direct attack on late fans who didn't understand Devo's message and covered by 'They Might be Giants' for the 'Sky High' movie. The aggressive message is played down by the playful sound that makes you smile when partnered with the lyrics. Each line is punctuated by repeated ascending and descending melodies. It is vocally lead, but there is a notable kookie keyboard melody and electric drums. The rhythm is hard to describe, but if you can imagine that 80s rhythm to which you can only dance badly, giving the track a sense of naïve affability. A bizarre high pitched keyboard melody plays out to fade.
Jerkin' Back and Forth (Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale)
'You think it's funny
But what I say is true
The reason that I live like this
Is all because of you'
This track features a synthetic and much more forceful sound than the last making it appear more mainstream. It is also a lot more serious with straight forward lyrics simplifying the subject matter. The composition is basic with the bridge comprised of synthesiser and drum machine only. There are funky little keyboard melodies in between the verses and the chorus and keyboard melodies play behind the vocals keeping up the pace. It also has an abrupt, unexpected ending.
Pity You (Mark Mothersbaugh)
'I know you really got a problem
A nasty kind of reflection'
This track, though still bizarre, is somewhat more mainstream than their others with less sound effects and more normal sounding vocals. 'Pity You's vocals follow a basic 80s composition and are backed by a tinny drum machine and a guitar using the pedals heavily. The track as a whole is quite bland with only the strong bass melody from the keyboard to give it some interest.
Soft Things (Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale)
'And now I'm calling out for soft things
Something soft when times get hard'
With this track the listeners get back to what we know and love. The intro is the grand, silly keyboard with a gentle high pitched melody sitting behind it. The keyboard provides the majority of the melody with the vocals leading the pitch changes, but essentially just adding to the rhythm. The lyrics are humorous and the catchy instrumentation has a definite 80s feel with the light percussion keeping a gentle and happy pace. The use of bongos makes the percussion more interesting than the usual drum machine. The highly produced vocals sound alien. The chorus is one of those melodies that you find stuck in your head and singing under your breath for the rest of the day.
Going Under (Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale)
'Now I'm happy all the time
I can't think and I'm feeling fine'
A keyboard providing the bass notes partnered by bizarre sound effects opens this track. There is no attempt at trying to create a realistic sound. The vocals are fairly fast paced, but the result is excited rather than tension filled. They lead the track, with each repetition on 'I'm going under' signalling a change in keyboard chord and a round of percussion. A drum machine keeps the pace while the keyboard melody punctuates the vocals. The high pitched synthesised and reverberated notes give a slightly alien feel. The vocals for each verse build in pitch until it can't go any further, then falls back and starts again. The vocally lead bridge (that acts as a filler rather than being enjoyable by itself) and the outro build in excitement though it is repetitive rather than melodic.
Race of Doom (Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale)
'It's a matter of time; it's a matter of luck
It's a factor of chance until I self destruct'
This track opens with staccato chorus vocals with a catchy melody from a highly effected guitar (which takes much more of a central role, though there is a lot of pedal use) punctuated by sound effects. The composition is simple and easier to listen to than most of the tracks. Despite the dark theme of the lyrics, the music gives over a happy mood. The verses are distinctly 80s and bring up images of shoulder pads and big hair and the chorus ... well ... it's just plain odd. The chorused vocals are used as an instrument themselves giving rhythm and pace. The bridge, especially, is a jolly amalgamation of all the instruments playing the same melody. Again, there is a rather abrupt ending.
Love Without Anger (Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale)
'Why scream and cry when you know it's through
Why fall in love when there's better things to do'
Covered by The Aquabats. Again, this track is a happy tune, with surprisingly miserable lyrics. The melody is very catchy with two layers of highly produced vocals and another abrupt ending with no outro.
The Super Thing (Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale)
'Hidden motivations, buried in the past.
Still gives us strength for the super thing'
After being lead into by a basic drum machine, the introduction to this track uses eerie synthesiser chords (that continues throughout the track, punctuating the vocals with descending three note scales) with touches of high pitched melody punctuating the vocals. The composition and rhythm are very basic, but gives over a dark emotional feel aided by the fact the track is held together by the bass. The bridge is a very good, if basic, guitar solo lead by the bass, making the whole track appear more grown up. The outro is very brief and features a slightly distorted version of the original riff.
Beautiful World (Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale)
'It's a beautiful world
It's a beautiful world
This seems like an upbeat track, with its catchy melodies and deceptive title, until the line 'Not me'. This track features a catchy, more melodic synthesiser with fast paced, plain vocals performed to a basic structure. The 80s drum machine punctuated by the keyboard drives the pace while the vocal changes controls the pitch from guitar and keyboard. The bridge is short and vocally lead and backed by guitar. The outro features highly produced vocals and fades to a close. It was to be covered by Rage Against the Machine on their covers album 'Renegades'.
Enough Said (Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale, General Boy)
'Take all the leaders from around the world
Put them together in a great big ring
Televise it as the lowest show on earth
And let them fight like hell to see who's king'
I love the lyrics to this track, especially as they are underplayed by the gentle keyboard melody and the upbeat pace. When they become the vocals they stop and start with pauses and snatches of melody in-between each line. The keyboard plays both bass and treble melodies together. There is a very produced, fake sound to this track, even when compared to the others. It is still much of a pop track with catchy melodies and a lack of sound effects while the guitar keeps pace.
Working in the Coalmine (Allen Toussaint)
'Well I been workin' in a coal mine
Goin' down down down'
Ok ... so imagine you get a well known, old school song, speed it up and but a Casio keyboard behind it and you pretty much have this pastiche track. If there was one track that described Devo's personality it would be this one - a serious message presented in a manner that borders on the ridiculous. It stands out from the rest of the tracks as it has no percussion and the rhythm is supplied by the vocals.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Devo Corporate Anthem
3 Timing X
4 Wiggly World
6 Strange Pursuits
7 SIB (Swelling Itching Brain)
8 Triumph Of The Will
9 Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprise
10 Pink Pussy Cat
11 Secret Agent Man
12 Smart Patrol
13 Mr DNA
14 Redeye Express
15 Through Being Cool
16 Jerkin' Back 'n' Forth
17 Pity You
18 Soft Things
19 Going Under
20 Race Of Doom
21 Love Without Anger
22 Super Thing
23 Beautiful World
24 Enough Said
25 Working In A Coalmine