Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! straddles the line between goofy kitsch and bitter satire. A pet project of five countercultural Ohio students who were equal parts goofball and provocateur, Devo started as a sort of art collective and became a band. They examined typical social norms and pop cliches from an ironic and self-consciously geeky viewpoint, methodically picking apart what they perceived as stale, foolish traditions. They poked holes in everything from masculinity to religion and commercialism by embracing them to the point of brainlessness and, therefore, parody. This resulted in an irreverent and sweetly venomous style.
This LP simultaneously condemns and celebrates American mediocrity and heterogeneity, while the herky-jerky band robotically clucks out nervous guitar patterns and plays plasticine-sounding synths tuned in awkward ways. Devo intentionally made it hard to discern what was ironic and what was sincere in their music. It defied trends and betrayed the inherent ”coolness” of rock, positing that mankind in general had gone too far and culture was starting to eat itself. And that’s exactly what their music conveyed, turning the Rolling Stones’ burning, lusty “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” into a gawky, arrhythmic pile of flop sweat, making mega-church prayer into a funky dance move, writing glowing paeans to cosmic trash and proclaiming chromosomal deficiency to be the typical state of an American citizen.
But they also took a cheeky attitude to musical tropes, introducing themselves ad nauseum in “Jocko Homo”, stopping and starting a song as they saw fit, having a grandiose piece culminate in a jokey simple goof, parodying the very concept of a solo, making a tongue-in-cheek doo-wop homage, and much more. Founding member Mark Mothersbaugh would go on to become the sonic mastermind behind the music of several Nicktoons, including Rugrats. Devo still soldiers on today, surely apoplectic at the further devolution we’ve brought upon ourselves.
Key track: “Jocko Homo”
See also: Duty Now For the Future – Devo (1979), Freedom Of Choice – Devo (1980)