Through being cool
A list of Devo albums, from best to worst:
Hardcore Devo, Volume 1 (1974-1977)
Hardcore Devo, Volume 2 (1974-1977)
Devo Live: The Mongoloid Years (1975-1977)
Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
Duty Now For the Future (1979)
Freedom of Choice (1980)
Dev-O Live (1980)
New Traditionalists (1981)
Oh No! It's Devo (1982)
E-Z Listening Disc (1987)
Total Devo (1988)
Now It Can Be Told - DEVO At the Palace 12/9/88 (1988)
Smooth Noodle Maps (1990)
Greatest Hits (1990)
Greatest Misses (1991)
Pioneers Who Got Scalped (2000)
Recombo DNA (2000)
Devo is both a band and theory. After witnessing the shooting of four protesters at Kent State, Devo members Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale started to form an idea that society was a mess and wasn't going to rebound. The theory is that society is not evolving but rather de-evolving into a mess of greed and conformity. When taken to its roots, it's extremely radical, but still interesting - take into account the commercials you see on TV, and exactly what they're appealing to (it's either sex, pride, or food), or various happenings around the globe. Their ideas were mostly based on the book In the Beginning Was the End by Oscar Maerth. Whether or not this theory is true will probably reveal itself way after I'm dead, so it doesn't make much of a difference to me, but Devo really took it seriously. The band is another story - they started out as almost a joke band, who were used to being thrown off the stage when they played live - not for playing bad music (although the crowd probably didn't like them - Devo's not for everyone), but for purposely annoying the audience by extending their songs until the crowd had to take action. In fact, sometimes the club owners even paid the band to leave.
Devo was NOT just the band who had a hit single in the early 80's with "Whip It". Unfortunately too many people automatically equate that song with the band, dismissing them as a gimmick (which, for the most part, they were). And while there's no denying that Devo has made it's share of bad music (although that's mostly confined to one period), they're also responsible for some of the catchiest New Wave that the late 70's/early 80's had to offer. Devo was nerd-rock at it's finest - not the cute geek-rock that bands like the Barenaked Ladies and They Might Be Giants do, but real nerd-rock from some real nerds. Maybe they just weren't smooth with the ladies or just got fed up with all the double standards of relationships, but they devoted a lot of time to making the subject of sex and marriage as unappealing as they could, which I'm sure nerds everywhere enjoyed. "Uncontrollable Urge", indeed - Devo were the sort of band that believed that society would be better off if we were all robots, like Kraftwerk (who they were incredibly influenced by).
Devo got their big break around 1976, when their short film The Complete Truth About De-Evolution won at the Ann Arbor film festival - attracting the likes of David Bowie and Iggy Pop. In fact, Iggy Pop even wanted to join the band for a short while, although the actual members of Devo knew this would destroy them. Eventually they got a contract with Warner Brothers, and hooked up with Brian Eno to produce their first album.
These guys did have a lot of signatures to their sound - early on, it was their guitar tone and use of synthesizers, but later it was (unfortunately) primarily the synthesizer (and somewhat that repetitive disco rhythm that they did a lot). While everyone in the band did vocals at some point, the main vocalists were Mark and Gerald. Mark's slippery voice is certainly the most distinctive - he's got range, but he usually can't even be bothered to stay on-key, for better or worse. Gerald's voice is gets used as a secondary, whose sarcastic delivery helped define much of Devo's sound. Here's the whole band:
Bob Casale - Guitar
Gerald Casale - Bass, Vocals
Bob Lewis - Philosophy
Bob Mothersbaugh - Guitar
Mark Mothersbaugh - Vocals, Keyboards
The earlier Devo releases are actually pretty darn good...when the band had a vision and were able to back it up musically was when they were able to produce their best albums. After 1981, they inadvertently proved their own theory by slowly going down the tubes and de-evolving into a generic-sounding band overloaded with digital synthesizers. Even the lyrics started to suffer - the early catalog was filled with anti-women songs that showed a rampant sexism in the boys work (although it certainly wasn't blind sexism), only to later wind up singing more-or-less regular love songs later in their career. So if you just stick to the early releases, you'll find that these guys actually had something to them. Oddly enough, some of the band's best work (Hardcore Devo, Recombo DNA, and some of the live albums) is incredibly hard to find.
Hardcore Devo, Vol. 1 (1974-1977, released 1990)
Best Song: Uglatto
Devo formed in the small, unheard of town of Akron, Ohio (you probably haven't heard of it) and attended the same schools my parents did. The band has roots back to 1970, but they didn't start recording until around 1974 (four years before landing a record deal). Realizing that this was when some of the band's best material was recorded, Mark decided to release a couple of albums of 4-track basement and car wash demos in a very limited run, making securing a copy of them all but impossible. Which is too bad - this is the kind of album that every Devo fan needs but won't be able to find. It's strange just how real this stuff is - Devo was always a robotic synthesizer-based band that was based around not showing emotion (but they didn't take this to its logical extreme, like their buddies Kraftwerk did). But this not only has emotion, but also shows how good Devo was when they weren't over-produced and overloaded with synthesizer. Oh, the synthesizer's still here, but it's mostly found underneath the guitars, which are of course fuzzed to all hell. It's that ugly, static-like guitar tone that pretty much defines what Devo SHOULD sound like. And even though most of this is straightforward new wave/punkish stuff, the band does pull lots of punches - listen to the creepy swirling intro to "Mechanical Man", or the weird atmospherics on "Golden Energy". But the surprising thing is just how much of this is good - I was expecting the tracks that made the first album to be the best, but there's also quite a few great songs on here that never got remastered and released. "I'm a Potato", "Uglatto", "Auto Modown", and so on...all of it solid material, showing both the 'rock' edge of Devo as well as the ever-present catchy elements that would follow them throughout their career. Speaking of which, doesn't "Midget" pretty much predict the whole disco beat thing that would follow them throughout a few albums later on? And why didn't "Social Fools" get thrown on an album in order to reach a wider audience? It could have been reworked pretty well, and I think the message ("you disobey/and then you obey") is something Devo didn't harp on enough (as well as the bullet point "be like your ancestors or be different" that this song pretty much represents).
Even the songs that made the album are pretty good in these forms - save for "Mongoloid" which really needed the production it ended up getting (although you can't really say that much for the album as a whole - the sound quality is good, and the raw sound is really the main pull of the album). "Jocko Homo" always makes me smile because the video from The Complete Truth About De-evolution used this version...if you're a fan of Devo who hasn't seen the "Jocko Homo" video, you should pick up the DVD just for that. And the cover of the Stones' classic "Satisfaction", while obviously not as polished as the '78 studio version, actually manages to have better riffage than the real version (the Devo version, not the Stones).
Hardcore Devo, Vol. 2 (1974-1977, released 1991)
Best Song: A Plan For U
Not wanting to be that asshole who released a "Volume 1" of something without having a "Volume 2" planned (which is a stupid trick that asshole bands like the Backstreet Boys and Korn do in order to try to convince fans that they're going to have just as many hits in the future), Mark decided to release a second volume of Hardcore Devo. In fact, there was supposed to be as many as four volumes of this, but I'm guessing that Mark killed that idea by filling this CD nearly to the brim of old Devo material, making it about 25 minutes longer than the first volume. Other than that, this is pretty much the same thing. It starts with the creepy "Booji Boy's Funeral" - played during a scene they did when they played live showing Booji Boy (if you don't know who this is, it's a character that Mark used to play when he wore a babyfaced mask that was supposed to represent what society was devolving into) getting killed by a factory press (I've tried doing this and it's impossible). From there, there's a whole bunch of Devo treasures to be found - lots of wackier songs like "A Plan For U" (featuring one of the best disjointed rhythms I've heard), "Fraulien", "37", and so on. All the sexist stuff is on here too - "The Rope Song" and "Baby Talkin' Bitches" is one thing, then there's "I Need a Chick", a Frank Zappa outtake if I ever heard one. Musically, it's on par with the first volume, just with more songs on it. However, the synthesizers take more of a role here, leading songs like "U Got Me Bugged", "Chango", and the closing "Let's Go". While it feels more like a compilation as opposed to Hardcore 1 which feels like a lost Devo album, it's still every bit as essential. Oh, it's also got the first version of one of Devo's best unreleased songs - "Be Stiff" never found its way to an album, but it's one of the best Devo songs there is (although there are a few other ways to pick this one up). Only a couple of the songs from here would come back in studio form - "Clockout" is a more-or-less straightforward rocker that ended up on the second album, and the cover of "Working in a Coalmine" would be thrown on as a bonus 45 for their fourth. Also the lyrics to "All of Us" (which is, by the way, a fantastic blues song, especially when it's just the guitar) would later be reworked in "Going Under" - not terribly fascinating, but still a piece of Devo history.
Devo Live: The Mongoloid Years (1975-1977, released 1992)
Best Song: The last one!
Yet another extremely hard to find but essential release, The Mongoloid Years covers the band's live performances from 1975-1977. Probably most notable for capturing the spirit of Devo that wasn't even covered in the Hardcore Devo compilations - Devo was, at its core, just a bunch of nerds, but they were tough - they didn't conform for anyone, and would play until the audience made them stop. But that's not until the end of this collection - the first nine songs, recorded in New York, make up the bulk of the album, and are probably the best part of it - Devo was really polished at this point, and the gig was so good that it led to their record deal. While a few of the songs probably weren't finished at this point ("Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA"), a few of them, like "Uncontrollable Urge", "Mongoloid" and "Sloppy" are done like a standard punk band, with Alan the drummer taking center stage and driving the songs forward. The next few songs are live in Akron in 1976...the sound quality isn't quite as good, but the performances are kind of similar - "Clockout" for one seems to have all the energy of the first tracks, but Mark's microphone keeps cutting out. The last song, "Blockhead", ends in God knows what, with the club owner talking about drugs and such while the band apparently got into a fight with the band The Dead Boys who they were opening for. Now you'd think, "hey, this is Devo!", but wait until the last track - apparently recorded during their first gig (although I do have a 1974 recording featuring mostly Hardcore Vol. 2 recordings, so maybe it's not) when Devo was hired as a joke to open for Sun Ra. The first two songs of this gig kind of suck because of the sound quality and the fact that the band really wasn't polished by this point, but stick around for a while and you'll hear an insanely long version of "Jocko Homo" where the band chants the "are we not men" part until the members of the audience either left or ambushed the band on stage (!). Luckily, the performance is capped a little bit - originally they were doing "Jocko Homo" for thirty minutes until finally going into "I Need a Chick", but by this point the audience members have unplugged most of the instruments. If you turn the volume way up, you can even hear Mark and Gerald arguing with audience members ("there are other bands waiting to go on!"). Needless to say, Sun Ra played to a near-empty audience by the time they finally got on.
Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
Best Song: Gut Feeling
And finally, we get to the actual first album. Even if it's not your favorite Devo album, every Devo fan would probably agree that it you want to get into the band, this is pretty much where you have to start (or Greatest Hits, if you're some sort of cheater who shouldn't be reading music review pages). Many people attribute the album's success to the fact that it was produced by none other than Brian Eno (making this one of the weirdest items in the Eno catalog), but it probably just has more to do with how great the early guitar-based Devo was. Half punk and half new wave, this remains one of the most original, not to mention catchiest albums of the late 70's. It kicks off with the perfect punk/new wave hybrid, the uncontrollable stomper "Uncontrollable Urge", with an addictive as all hell chorus, not to mention some of the tightest instrumental parts (and I don't mean solos, Devo didn't do solos). I was tempted at first to call this the best song on the album, but there are way too many contenders for that title - I'd probably give it to "Gut Feeling", if anything. It just might be their most exciting and epic song, thanks in part to a brilliant piano part in the beginning as well as a huge mess of distorted guitars in the end (that proves that at one point, these nerds could rock), until it goes into the punkish "Slap Your Mammy" which closes it out. But you also have to consider the signature Devo songs - "Jocko Homo" is THE Devo theme song, any way you look at it. Amazing how they managed to polish it up without destroying the feeling of the original (Hardcore) version. There's also "Mongoloid", maybe Devo's catchiest song - the vocal hook will almost never leave your head until you're singing along with 'em.
For the most part, everything on here is pretty solid. There's a pair of great rockers over on Side 2 - the western style "Come Back Jonee" was a minor hit for the band, and "Sloppy" features some more tight jamming that leads into another catchy-as-hell song (although the chorus gets annoying after a while). "Space Junk" is another good rock song, with lots of...what is that, radio feedback? Mark's sense of humor is certainly there, telling the tale of a woman who was killed when something hit her from outer space. And of course, there's the cover of "Satisfaction" which Mick Jagger stated was his favorite cover of the song (no arguments here - personally, I think it's better than the original, if only because Mark's voice seems to fit the mood way better).
Originally I gave this album a 'meager' four and a half talking heads, but I think it's worth the full five, because there's not a single song on here I don't like. I think it's one of the best albums of the 70's, and if you like albums, you should get this one.
Duty Now For the Future (1979)
Best Song: Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA
How reviewers can fawn over Q: Are We Not Men? and then slam this album through the hoop and to the ground is beyond me. Maybe it's due to the lack of guitars (or so it would seem - apparently most of the guitars are processed to hell, making it seem like an abundance of synthesizers), but it's not as if this is a complete 180 from the debut, after all, most of these songs were written at the same time. Even though there's no "Gut Feeling" or "Uncontrollable Urge", there's still enough good material on here to make it worthwhile. It's certainly a little toned down - there's a few punkish songs like "Clockout" and "Wiggly World" (unfortunately not related to "It's a Wiggly World" by The Wiggles), but most of the high energy has been transformed into simply a fast tempo in songs like "Swelling Itching Brain" and "Strange Pursuit", which shows off the synth-pop side that would flesh itself out on later albums. Still, it doesn't matter as long as the rhythms are still strong - this album is surprisingly solid. While the predecessor may have had a handful of songs that were better than the rest, everything here's pretty much the same quality (unless you're not a fan of the two short instrumentals on Side 1, which I like). Well, save for a couple of songs - "Triumph of the Will", which begins side 2, is pretty boring, and the epic "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA" has way too many good hooks to be lumped in with the rest. Other than that, it's hard to complain - "Blockhead" may be no "Mongoloid", but it still rests on a good vocal melody, and songs like "The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise" give this album a voice of its own (the "waaa-hoooo" chorus is something Devo usually wouldn't do, but it really works here). There's another cover, this time being "Secret Agent Man", which might not be as distinctive as the "Satisfaction" cover, but is still enjoyable. Also, I have to mention the fast-paced "Pink Pussycat", which I really didn't like at first (his voice is so cuuuuute!), but after a few listens became one of my favorites on the album. While it ends with "Red Eye" - sort of a strange way to end the album, as it's no different than the rest of the songs on here - the Infinite Zero re-releases throws in two bonus tracks. There's a remake of the early "Soo Bawls" and the B-side "Penetration in the Centerfold" which really doesn't deserve to be a B-side at all (if it were on the album it would quiet those who complain about the lack of guitars and punk attitude on the album). If you replaced "Triumph of the Will" with the song and threw on the obscure surf-rock "It Takes a Worried Man" (which Devo used to perform as the terrible 'people power' band Dove, because apparently they missed the days of getting shit thrown at them), you'd get an album that I'd easily give four stars to, but as it is it's just a little like on premiere material. Regardless, as long as the hooks are good, everything works, so if you enjoyed the first album, this is the next place to go.
Freedom of Choice (1980)
Best Song: Snowball
Although one of their biggest messages was that of non-conformity, all the members of Devo dressed the same. While Q: Are We Not Men? was jumpsuits and Duty Now For the Future was lab coats with square sunglasses, their most famous look came here with the upside-down flowerpots (excuse me, the correct term is 'energy dome'). Of course, this was only because Freedom of Choice was their breakthrough album, giving them tons of exposure and forever cementing the image of Devo being a bunch of one-hit wonders. I won't go as far as to say that "Whip It" is the worst song here like the Disclaimer Music Review Archive does, because it's really one of the best Devo songs, but you've all heard it before, so that's that. This album is even more removed from guitars than Duty Now For the Future was, making this into a somewhat energetic synth-pop album - but I'll still give it a good rating because the hooks are still awesome, giving the album the illusion that it really doesn't even need guitars. Of course, the lack of hard edges does hurt the album in the long run, but with synth-pop masterpieces like "Snowball" and "Gates of Steel", who needs 'em? The title track give the band another anthem, emphasizing how if society is to hold any value, people have to use their free will. The song itself is one of the best on here, with the industrial backing drums and main synth line interlocking perfectly (something that A Perfect Circle seriously fucked up when they covered the song). Either way, this was Devo's new big idea - after the general statement of purpose "Jocko Homo", this might be the most lyrically important Devo song. The idea is actually really cool - saying that as humans, we have the right to choose what we want, but secretly, we want all our decisions made for us. The line "Freedom of choice/is what you got/Freedom from choice/is what you want" is the big statement here, although you could make a good case around "Gates of Steel" as well.
Again, it's the quality of the average song on the album that makes it so good. They're still as catchy as they ever were - the cool laser gun noises on "It's Not Right" is one of those guilty pleasures that I hate to admit I'm a fan of, and the fast pitched bass line of "Planet Earth" makes the song way better than it has any right to be. Even the more generic songs are good - "Mr. B's Ballroom" has another strong synth line, and "Ton O' Luv" and "Don't You Know" have enough tricks to be interesting (and the line "and crush that doubt, hunh, with a ton o' luv" has a great vocal delivery). In fact, the vocals on this album are about as good as they'd get - repeating most of the lines in "Cold War" is such a dorky thing to do, but it's really addicting to listen to. Even though most of the real Devo fans despise this album for breaking the band into the mainstream which led to their eventual decline, the document in itself is still pretty great one.
Dev-O Live (1981, re-released 1999)
Best Song: Hard to say, but the Freedom of Choice Theme/Whip It is cool...
The commercialization of Devo was something the band was very much against (which might explain why they sarcastically filled the album cover of Duty Now For the Future with tons of bar codes), but Warner Brothers loved it. After seeing that this band they signed actually scored a big hit, Warner moved in to cash in on the weird red-hat craze, releasing this 6-song EP showing Devo play a bunch of Freedom of Choice songs live. Rhino eventually re-released it with a whole bunch of bonus tracks from a different live show (do they even count as bonus tracks if there's sixteen of them?), making the first six tracks totally superfluous...and, for some reason, they're all still on here, so if you don't like listening to the same songs twice, make sure you start the disc at track seven.
The band starts by playing an instrumental "Freedom of Choice" which leads into "Whip It" (which I'm guessing is how they started all their 1981 live shows, just to get the song out of the way). Obviously everyone's going to cheer for "Whip It", but it must have been disappointing to Mark and the gang to find out that most people didn't even recognize the song until the whip cracks. This isn't the same version of Devo you'd find on The Mongoloid Years - no, this version of the band is insanely polished and only a little out of hand - but regardless, they're still pretty good. If you're looking for a break from the studio albums, this probably isn't the best choice - the songs from Freedom of Choice sound exactly like they did on Freedom of Choice. They do six of the best songs off that album, as well as a few from Duty Now For the Future and only three from Q: Are We Not Men? which is a little disappointing - not even a "Jocko Homo", unless that got clipped from the release. Which is entirely possible, because the 16-song concert apparently isn't even a full one (wait, of course not, it's only like 55 minutes long). In that case, you'd have to wonder why they even bothered to leave the six-song EP on here - without it, it would probably be a higher grade (especially if they put on more of the original concert).
New Traditionalists (1981)
Best Song: Race of Doom
Here's some trivia for you: up until three months ago (11/04, by my calendar), I'd never heard this album, even though I named a webcomic after it. I had actually just seen it on the inside of the Greatest Hits album and thought it was a cool title. I'm glad that the album is at least somewhat good, because the last thing I'd want is to name a project I've been working on for two and a half years after a shitty album (which is why I didn't name it Bat Out of Hell II). Lucky for me, the album turned out to be pretty good. At least, in my eyes it is. The critics liked Freedom of Choice quite a bit, so it's only predictable that they'd pan the hell out of this one. Still, I stand by the statement that New Traditionalists is the last real worthwhile album they made, and not exactly where they started to lose it. Yet still, I'm split on it - listening to this and Freedom of Choice back to back usually tells me that I liked the previous album better, but looking at my iTunes 'most played' list shows that three of my four favorite Devo songs are all from this album. Not that this is at all a scientific way of determining album ratings (in that case, I would just name "Tunak Tunak Tun" by Daler Mehndi as the best song of all time and be done with it - and who would disagree with that?), but it does say one thing - this album's has some real addictive songs on it. Of course, this all plays off the New Wave-synth loaded-but-still-great element again, as "Going Under" has to be one of the catchiest non-Gary Numan songs I've ever heard from the early 80's (especially the line "I know a place where dreams get crushed/hopes are smashed/but that ain't much"), this time thanks to the spacey synthesizer tone. And, by the way, the synths are all over this album too, pretty much to the point where there's almost no guitar at all (at least "Snowball" had a few guitar notes buried underneath it). Of course, Devo can still produce some great songs - especially the grating tone on "Race of Doom", which, combined with it's ultra-catchy "Is it on?" "Is it off?" "Reply!" chorus makes it the best song on the album, and maybe even their best since "Gut Feeling".
Anyways, the main problem with this album isn't even really on the album itself, but rather foreshadowed by it - since "Whip It", Devo had really fallen in love with the disco drumbeat and dance style of music. So you're not going to find any interesting drum fills from here on out - in fact, Alan had pretty much let the drum machines take over by now, so you can't even tell that, at one point, the band had a good drummer in it. Thankfully there's no real casualties this time around - "Pity You" is pretty much a disco song in itself, but at least it's a good disco song, and the aforementioned "Going Under" is solid with or without it. The songwriting is still mostly good - as "Uncontrollable Urge" was a perfect New Wave song back when Devo was New Wave, "Love Without Anger" is a perfect piece of synth-pop. The opener "Through Being Cool" was another statement from the band, although I can't imagine they intended it to mean what everyone took it as, that Devo wasn't interested in having any more huge hit singles (because it became obvious after a while that they really wanted another one). The other big statement came in the ultra-sarcastic "Beautiful World" (which is also the last good video that Devo ever made, showing footage of national tragedies, starving African children, and the KKK, among other things) which was also a minor hit for the band (and can currently be heard in a Target commercial because Warner Brothers is 99% fuck-ups who can't understand what a song is about, like HP who tried to advertise a camera using the song "Picturebook" ) and the only place on the album where you can actually hear a little bit of guitar (the first 15 seconds).
Obviously, there are some downfalls - mostly "The Super Thing", not just because it comes after the three best songs on the album, but also because it's waaaay too long (edited down to 2 1/2 minutes, this could be a pretty good song). But the cover of "Working in a Coalmine" makes up for it - although it's not really a part of the album (each copy of the LP came with it as a bonus 45, but my copy is missing it...good thing that every CD version just throws it on at the end). The only other questionable song is "Nuff Said", but only because they really needed to play the main melody with a freakin' guitar and not a synthesized one.
Oh, No! It's Devo (1982)
Best Song: Big Mess
More like, Oh, No!...er, simply Oh, No, because this is kind of sort of you know, where Devo just lost it a little, making an album full of generic Computer World-inspired Disco Duck dance tunes without a single hit single worth its weight besides "Big Mess", which is as good as everything they've done, provided you don't mind a lot of mindless synthesizer, which is pretty much all you get on this album. While I don't like the sound, and I don't like the Cars-style production (even though it was produced by Roy Thomas Baker), there isn't one song in particular that I dislike. It's just a not very notable, despite a good hook flying in your way here and there.
It starts with "Time Out For Fun", which I guess is the big statement here, because the lyrics are pretty bad this time around (my favorite is just the opening "Hello, this is, De-vo"). Oh, the song "Speed Racer", I guess has a funny one, the "I'm Speed Racer and I drive real fast!" in this really unbelievably nerdy voice. The only lyrical statement is in "I Desire", where the lyrics are taken from a poem written from a would-be Presidential assassinator to Jodie Foster who was going to kill the president to get her attention. Needless to say, the band probably didn't appreciate the upcoming CIA investigation, but hey, even "Louie Louie" got one of those, so what?
Anyways, I guess my real problem is that this sounds really dated, but not even in that cute synth-pop way, not in that still-relevant Pete Townshend way, but rather in that 'there's a better model for this' way that basically ruins the somewhat-menacing tone on "Explosions", which is behind it's time the way the song it tried to somewhat imitate, "It's More Fun to Compute" probably won't.
Okay, the CD version has a few "Peek-a-Boo" mixes, a few "Here to Go" mixes (a song which doesn't even appear until the next album), as well as a couple of B-sides, of which the surf-organ based "Find Out" is the better one, besting even some of the album material. If you've got the above albums and need to know where to go next, this really can't be a bad choice, but it's just a little bland, so watch out. Otherwise, it's pretty musically solid, and even a lot of fun sometimes.
Best Song: The 4th Dimension
Since Oh, No! It's DEVO sold a total of fifty-two copies worldwide, Warner Brothers was reaaally pressing Devo to release another hit. But it wouldn't work out the way they wanted, as Shout! pretty much continues in the same downward spiral as Oh, No did, except this time, it's nowhere near as consistent (the previous album at least had enough distinct ideas to not be boring). Most of these songs sound exactly the same - lame synthesizer part over really bland industrial drums (they use the saaaame beat every time). Only half of the songs are actually distinctive...in fact, two or three of them are actually pretty good, if you can believe that. "The 4th Dimension" starts out shaky, but the running synthesizer line harkens back to the quality of the Freedom of Choice days. The borrowed "Day Tripper" riff at the end was a little disappointing (they were pretty much clamoring for radio airplay at this point), but besides that it's a pretty big highlight on a desperate album. "Here to Go" is the only dance song on the album that's actually danceable, although the "Go Mix" of the song is better. That, plus the title track is listenable - the fake horns are a neat touch (still, kind of wish they were real, but that would never happen), but it's pretty much the same fanfare as the rest of the album. Devo was so desperate for ideas that they even tried doing something they knew they couldn't pull off - a cover of "Are You Experienced?" ends the album, and even though the little guitar section is pretty nice, it really shows that not only could Devo not write a song anymore, they also couldn't perform one. And to think, this was the single! Still, it's better than most of the garbage on here. I mean, I thought the lyrics on Oh No, It's Devo were pretty bad, but they were at least good-natured and funny. These are just stale - the title track doesn't go beyond the song title, and even stuff that reiterates previous themes, like "Puppet Boy", come off as just being stupid. There is one good song buried near the end - "Please Please" has a great bassline, almost suggesting that these guys still had some talent left in 'em! And I love the way there's a mashed up vocal melody that wraps around it. The CD version contains a Shout! outtake (did they honestly think this would help sales?) - "Growing Pains", featuring a dying animal (or just one out of batteries, what IS that?), as well as an easy listening version of the title track that's actually not as horrible as it should be (and whose idea was it to whisper the line "Shout!" anyway)? Either way, really not worth your time - if you get Oh No, It's Devo on CD for the good "Here to Go" mix then "The 4th Dimension" is the only real reason for this album to exist.
E-Z Listening Disc (1987)
Best Song: That's Good
By this point, Devo was pretty much an elaborate self-parody, as evidenced by this collection of easy listening tunes by our favorite de-evolution band! I can't give it a high rating because I almost never want to listen to it, but I can't give it a low rating because by all means this was a concept that should have failed. A lot of the time it does...when they try to convert their songs to shmultzy elevator music ("Come Back Jonee", "Beautiful World", "Space Junk"), it's an embarrassing failure every time, but when they actually use some instruments it comes off pretty well. "That's Good" was the first track from here that I really liked (especially the first minute or so - these songs are awfully repetitive), due to some swingin' bass and reggae guitar (that shows up on "Shout!" as well). "The 4th Dimension" is also really good because it's not really easy listening at all, but rather a surf-rock version of it. While this is essentially just a bunch of MIDI files (nowadays the kind of things they put on cell phones), when the hooks are still catchy it's fun to listen to. But in all honesty, there's no reason this needed to be a 70-minute release...just a regular-sized album of the best songs on here might actually get a pretty decent rating. As it is, listening to the whole thing at once is pretty much impossible, so I can't recommend it, although you might reach for some of the better material on here every once in a while.
Total Devo (1988)
Best Song: Well, there's only two songs on here I can tolerate, so both Disco Dancer and Happy Guy
Apparently not able to take a hint after Warner Brothers dropped them, Devo persisted by signing to Restless (which is a little ironic, don't you think) and releasing another album. Except this time, Alan Myers left due to a lack of vision, and a lack of real drums for more than half-a-decade, only to be replaced by David Kendrick, who I think played for Sparks at one point...not that it matters, like Shout!, the drumming on every song is the saaaame old thing over and over. The album itself is almost famously bad, despite the fact that there was a lot going for it. For one, it's actually got really good production, and there are more guitars on the album than any Devo release since Duty Now For the Future. But it doesn't even matter at this point - they use the aspect of good production alone to try to carry the album, hiding a lack of any substance. Two songs are made listenable - "Disco Dancer" is actually a pretty catchy single (at least the "I'm a disco boy" part is, because those "yugggh"s annoy the fuck out of me), even if it has 'generic disco song' stamped all over it. "Happy Guy" uses a nice revolving guitar part to hold it together, and is the only instance where the synthesizers don't ruin the song. Besides that, it's really just one failure after another - "Plain Truth" strikes out twice by not only re-using a melody from Hardcore Vol. 2 (which was waaaay more interesting there, by the way), but also using horrible female backing vocals (plus the melody gets half-reused in "I'd Cry If You Died"). "Some Things Never Change" actually has a guitar solo in it, but it's not anywhere near good (and you wondered why they never tried this in the past). Everything else either drags on for too long or is a gimmick (their cover of "Don't Be Cruel" is so bad it's almost good) - like "Blow Up", which uses the same silly growling vocals that worked for "one, two, Be Stiff" and nothing else. Oh, the album's lyrically terrible too. "Some Things Never Change" has a good point to it, but it's so darned obvious - there's no subtlety to the lyrics like their songs in the past did. They're writing fully-fledged love songs now - nothing like "Snowball", to be sure. "Baby Doll", "Sexi Luv"...what the fuck was this band even about any more? Hell, the only statement I can get into here was "disco is dead"...but somehow I preferred the half assed disco on Shout! than to this tripe. And, if you get the CD version, you even get extended versions of your favorite Total Devo songs! Nothing like listening to a 6-minute "Agitated" to make you wish that Devo had broken up in 1982 after all!
Now It Can Be Told - DEVO At the Palace 12/9/88 (1988, released 1994)
Best Song: Working in a Coalmine
Well, if you've got new material, you might as well tour it. Devo's pretty much become a dinosaur band at this point - luckily most of this material is from Q: Are We Not Men?, Freedom of Choice, or New Traditionalists. They don't have the energy they used to have (which may be because this new drummer sucks), but if you didn't like Dev-O Live because the songs sounded too much like the studio versions, you might like this one. You can tell it's going to be different right from the get-go, with an acoustic version of "Jocko Homo" - it's not particularly great, but it's certainly interesting. The same goes for a lot of the album - the few Total Devo songs there are sound just like the studio version, but that's it. And luckily, there's only three songs from that album, and they happen to be the best three (although "Baby Doll" is still a pile of shit). It's a little disappointing in places - they do the E-Z listening versions of "Going Under" and "Jerkin' Back n' Forth" but not "That's Good"? Plus, the stage banter is funny - Mark saying "you may wonder why we're sitting down...just to show you that we still can after ten years in this business" makes the album worth it, with Gerald's random "I am so fucking DE-VO!" comment during "Working in the Coalmine". But still, the band's lost something since its early days - songs like "Gut Feeling" and "Uncontrollable Urge", which used to be done fast and aggressive, are now slower and somewhat polished. Even the little jamming parts on "Uncontrollable Urge" are boring. But on the plus side, there are a couple of new songs here - like "It Doesn't Matter To Me", which is actually a pretty good acoustic-based number that wasn't on any of the albums, plus there's this 10-minute thing called "Somewhere With Devo" that they do as an encore, which is just "Shout!" a "Disco Dancer" medley with a few new parts thrown in. Obviously not the best live album, but any live album can get a respectable rating if the band's somewhat talented and the set isn't too predictable. Not exactly a must for any Devo fan, but you'll want to pick this up eventually.
Oh yeah, as a footnote: I have a DVD of Devo performing live in 1996, and they RULED. A hell of a lot more energy than there is here, thanks to a brand new drummer, who may or may not have officially replaced Dave Kendrick yet.
Smooth Noodle Maps (1990)
Best Song: Post-Post Modern Man
This album has been pretty much ignored and slammed by critics everywhere, who probably listened to the first half, thought, "this isn't Freedom of Choice", gave it a C- and left it at that. I mean, the year was 1990 and the last thing we needed was another Devo album, but this one actually isn't half bad. While it's true that this release has more in common with Total Devo than Q: Are We Not Men?, it's also true that if you liked anything about the last few releases, you'd probably like this one as well. The good production values are back, but this time the guys are writing some actual songs instead of half-assed attempts at covering a lack of inspiration. Even the synthesizers on the album aren't horrible - "Stuck In a Loop" opens the album with a synthesized trumpet line that may have been dated in 1990, but still ends up working well. Plus, the album has their best song since "Big Mess" - the chanting "Post-Post Modern Man" actually deserved radio airplay for having as good of dynamics as it does. And "Devo Has Feelings Too" is actually a decent arena-rocker with a frantic atmosphere not really seen on any other Devo track. There are minor gems all over the place here...the cover of the Grateful Dead's "Morning Dew", easily their best cover in a while, and the catchy "Jimmy" actually harkens back to their earlier days. Even "Pink Jazz Trancers" isn't terribly annoying - the piano in it is totally out of left field, and even though Devo probably didn't know what they were doing, it all worked out okay.
Despite all this, it's still no Freedom Of Choice, meaning you aren't going to want to listen to it very often,. For one, they aren't trying to be old Devo anymore, taking on a more serious tone, even if the lyrics still mostly suck. Just look at the titles..."When We Do It", "A Change is Gonna Cum"...maybe when the band formed in the early 70's this was fine, but this band is over 15 years old! There's really no deep statements here, unless you think something like "Jimmy's in a wheelchair and I don't care" has something to do with anything.
Oh, there's one other thing - some versions of the album come with three extra mixes of the best song, "Post-Post Modern Man". The first one sounds most like the original (in fact, this may be the original version of the song), and the next two transform it into some sort of techno re-mix (the third mix is just the second one without vocals). It's kind of hypnotizing in that Kraftwerk way, until you realize that this is pretty much a complete rip-off of Kraftwerk, complete with even a sample from "It's More Fun to Compute".
Anyways, this was Devo's last album - at least they went out letting the people know that they still had a little bit of talent left. There was one more release, "The Adventures of the Smart Patrol", the soundtrack to a failed CD-ROM game (apparently it was just re-recorded classics anyways). Mark and Gerald also released an album called "P'Twaaang!" under the band name "The Wipeouters", which was apparently their old junior high band. I'd review it if I had any idea where to find it.
Greatest Hits (1990)
This was the album that got me into Devo, mainly because I think each member of my family had this at some point. I would recommend starting with Q: Are We Not Men? if you're musically savvy, but this isn't a bad choice. Pretty much everything is from the first five albums, save for the Go Mix of "Here to Go" which opens it. Most of the song choices are pretty obvious, and while it's disappointing to not see "Post-Post Modern Man" on here, it would probably disrupt the flow quite a bit - the songs actually play in the order that they would do them live, as I understand it.
Greatest Misses (1991)
Sort of strange that a one-hit wonder would find enough material to release two best-of albums that were 16-songs long apiece. Greatest Hits I can understand, but this really has no market, as almost all the songs were from Q: Are We Not Men? and Duty Now For the Future. It does contain one song that Greatest Hits overlooked, "Mongoloid" (and "Speed Racer", for whatever reason), but besides that collectors might want it for a few harder-to-find tracks. "Mechanical Man" and "Be Stiff" are both on here, the former of which is particularly hard to find. There's also the original mix of "Jocko Homo". Supposedly you were supposed to buy both of these at once for the story that covered both volumes.
Pioneers Who Got Scalped (2000)
The Devo anthology, which is my mind a better way to understand what the band was about than the Greatest Hits collection. Then again, it's much longer, so that's not saying a whole lot. These two discs cover pretty much Devo's entire career, from their early days when the film "The Complete Truth of De-Evolution" was out (it starts with a clip from the movie, actually) to their break-up in 1990. There-in really lies the problem, however - the collection covers all phases of Devo's career pretty much equally. There's plenty of unreleased tracks here - the would-be single "It Takes a Worried Man" is the one that I like the best, but there's plenty for even the Devo fan who has it all. Yet another take of "Jocko Homo" and "Mongoloid" are near the beginning, but each album has some unreleased material with it - be it a new mix of "Snowball" or something really strange like "General Boy Visits Apocalypse Now". This does get pretty tedious though - four unreleased cuts from the Shout!/Total Devo era are four cuts too many, and their cover of "Head Like a Hole" is out-and-out terrible. But some of the material at the very end is nice - "Thanks to You" is actually a pretty great song that should have been on Smooth Noodle Maps (then again, I have no idea when this was written), and the beatnik "Communication Break-up" always gets a chuckle-de-duckle out of me. There's also a studio version of the previously live-only "The Words Get Stuck In My Throat", sung by Booji Boy! It's catchy but the vocals are pretty annoying.
Of course, like all anthologies, they never pick the best tracks - for one, "Gut Feeling" isn't even on it when it reaaaally should be, and how did "Triumph of the Will" get on and how did "Mr. B's Ballroom" take the place of something like "Race of Doom" or "Going Under"? And there's an "Are You Experienced?" but no "4th Dimension"? Either way, there's enough good material on here to satisfy any fan, so if you've only got a few Devo albums and want to know more about the band, this is a good way to go.
Recombo DNA (2000)
I don't really feel comfortable giving this a rating, because it's a compilation, even if almost all the tracks are unreleased. Okay, so most of this is just the demo versions of older songs, but every collector is going to want all the non-album tracks here. Unfortunately, after Rhino Records went through the trouble of digging out so many Devo rarities and remastering them, they decided to only release 5,000 copies, so getting one is kind of a hassle. But if you can, it's a really great collection - sort of like an expanded Hardcore Devo that covers their whole career. Luckily, most of it is from when they were still good. It starts with the title track, which would have been one of the better tracks on Hardcore Devo, and goes from there. There's two songs sung by Booji Boy, his signature song "The Words Get Stuck In My Throat", and even a cover of Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" (!) which is actually really good. They're both live, with the latter showing the band going off on this hilarious religious tangent ("Jerry found religion!"), making fun of those who thought that Devo was some sort of satanic band (trust me, those types existed).
A lot of this focuses on the Freedom of Choice album - there's an alternate version of the album with two unreleased tracks, both of which could have been on the actual thing. The demos are usually interesting, even if most of them just sound like lo-fi recordings of album tracks. Some of them are just album tracks under different names with slightly different lyrics ("Luv & Such" is just "Mr. B's Ballroom" and "Psychology of Desire" is an early version of "The Super Thing"). What the demos really do is just show what the songs sound like without production and finishing touches, and some of them turn out really good - "Pink Pussycat" brings out the guitar that was hidden in the studio version (and I actually like the vocals here better), and the rough mixes of "Cold War" and "Snowball" work out really well. Actually, my favorite from this period is the unreleased "Bushwhacked"...not their best song from the whole 1979-1980 era, but it's really addictive, even if at it's core it's just a carnival synth riff looped over pounding drums for a few minutes.
Disc 2 is a little shakier, even with a rundown of some of the better New Traditionalists songs, but remember this is where Devo was starting to lose it. The early version of "The 4th Dimension" is pretty good, as is the really wonky (but addictive) "Here To Go". But after that it goes downhill, with a bunch of unreleased tracks from the later period of the band, which shouldn't be exciting - except that some of this, "Love is Stronger Than Dirt", "Faster and Faster", and especially "Modern Life", is way better than the album material from that period! Although "The Only One" should never have been released ever, this isn't even a Devo song! At least, it really doesn't sound like one. In the end there's the 18-minute epic "Somewhere With Devo", which may not be the best 18 minutes they ever put to tape, but it's still interesting - particularly since the beginning mimics a Hardcore song, "Social Fools". But that part is pretty horrible, thanks to everyone using their irritating voices again.
But hey, this is a damn fine collection, so if you're a pretty big Devo fan, look for it!
Club Devo, the official Devo webpage