Album Guide

By Pope Penguin

The music of Devo can be a tough nut to crack.  To some, they were visionary pioneers in music with an interesting, complex philosophy and penchant for snappy visuals and an acerbic sense of humor.  To others, they were just a dopey '80s one hit wonder who wore "flowerpots" (sic) on their heads.  And still, to others, they were a once brilliant joke with much promise that ended up only having one solitary punchline (that punchline being their first album, "Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!").  The Truth About Devo lies somewhere in the middle of all those viewpoints...though I, as you might have guessed, lean far more towards the first of those three views.  The trouble with Devo is that they never really made what you'd call a perfect album...and yet they remain contemporary heroes of mine, and one of my favorite bands of all time, hands down.

After seeing the Spud Boys in concert again recently, I was inspired to revisit their catalogue with fresh ears.  With this guide, we will attempt to set the record straight about the the music of Devo, while giving a highly subjective rundown of their released output and some history of the band as well (though please note, the band in general is fairly cagey and thus many aspects are still shrouded in mystery).  All "greatest hits" packages have been ignored (though one, "Pioneers Who Got Scalped," contains a bevy of rarities) and "Now It Can Be Told: Live At The Palace" has been skipped, as we don't own it.  There's also a side project from a few years ago called "P'Twaang," with some of the members of Devo masquerading as a surf band called The Wipeouters.

One thing that needs to be stated up front is this: if you don't like synthesizers, you won't like the majority of Devo's output.  After about 1980, Devo started moving in a more overt synthpop direction (fine with me), which apparently polarized--and still polarizes--a lot of people.  This is where many folks erroneously claim the band went "downhill," but I find it more than unfair to dismiss half a band's output merely because you don't like the equipment they use.  Some of those later albums are quite good and somewhat unfairly maligned.

Plus...I love synths.  So sue me.

The Good Pope would also like to state, for the record, that the first full length rock album he ever owned in his collection was Devo's "Freedom Of Choice"--at the tender age of 3--which could go some way towards explaining his love for the band (as well as his warped mental state in general).

EDITED FEBRUARY 3RD, 2005:  I've been thinking about it for a while now, and I think Devo might actually be my favorite band of all time.  They not only had the tunes, but they had the philosophy, the attitude, the costumes, the synths and the brilliant videos.  Really, they're like the perfect band.  For me, at least.

That may just explain why I can never quite settle on a favorite album of theirs.  Either way, it's a little ridiculous that none of these albums get 10's, so I've rectified that. I've also tweaked a few of the other ratings.  They may seem a little high, but hey, think of it this way: my reviews will balance out the countless negative reviews you'll find of the albums online.

Also, I was thinking the other day and came up with an interesting observation.  In the early years, Devo were more like historians, or mad scientists, just sort of cataloging the world around them.  In the later years, they started to let their contempt at the world really shine through.  I'd say this started to happen around 1980, but went into full swing around '81.

EDITED APRIL 5TH, 2009: I've been meaning to do this for a while. I had a change of heart: "Shout" has been downgraded to a five, while "Smoothnoodlemaps" has been upgraded to a six. While I still think "Shout" is a good album, it's just sort of *average* in their canon. Its sound is a little more...cartoonish than any of their other albums, and as such doesn't quite stand up as well. Plus "Smoothnoodlemaps" is more adventurous and diverse in its reach.

Devo have been busy spuds. They have revamped their stage show (which was in dire need of a reboot) by adding a rear projection screen with visuals, akin to the "Oh, No! It's DEVO" tour. In addition, they have introduced brand new songs into the set, from a forthcoming studio album set for Fall release! I'm cautiously optimistic, but from what I've heard so far, it should be at least as good as "Smoothnoodlemaps." If you'd like a preview, go to YouTube and search for "Don't Shoot (I'm a Man)," "Fresh" and "What We Do" from the recent Texas shows.

Finally, in this brief interview with the NME, Jerry Casale pretty much confirmed what I have long thought about the "Oh, No!" album: "What would a record sound like by fascist clowns?"

Any comments are welcome and will be added to this page.  No profanity or flaming, please.

Patrick K. writes:

It's wonderful to find a fellow spud who really appreciates New Traditionalists and Oh No, It's Devo!.  Oh No was the second LP I ever purchased with my own money, at age twelve; it remains my favorite Devo album. The third album I ever purchased, also at twelve, was New Traditionalists.  It's also good to find someone who doesn't just blow off Shout.  Thanks for a great webpage. 

Bob Casale - guitar, synths
Jerry Casale - bass, synths, vocals
Josh Freese - drums (1995-Present)
David Kendrick - drums (1987-Present)
Alan Meyers - drums (1977-1984)
Bob Mothersbaugh - guitar, occasional lead vocals
Jim Mothersbaugh - drums (1974-1977)
Mark Mothersbaugh - vocals, synths, guitar

HIGHLIGHT:"Duty Now For The Future"
LOWLIGHT:"Total Devo"
FOR BEGINNERS:  "Freedom Of Choice"

ALBUM AVERAGE: 7.14/10 (for 14 titles)


Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!  •  Duty Now For The Future  •  Freedom Of Choice  •  Dev-o Live  •  New Traditionalists  •  Oh No! It's Devo  •  Shout  •  E-Z Listening Disc  •  Total Devo  •  Smoothnoodlemaps  •  Hardcore Devo, Volume 1 • Hardcore Devo, Volume 2  • Live: The Mongoloid Years  •  Recombo DNA


So it begins...although the story actually goes back to the early '70s and Kent State University.  Art students Gerald Vincent Casale (bass, vocals) and Mark Mothersbaugh (synths, vocals) (or Jerry and Bob Lewis, depending on whom you believe) met and eventually came up with the concept of de-evolution (i.e. things falling apart).  It was a non-judgmental, kischy concept designed to present humanity with an honest (and not pretty) snapshot of what was going on in the world.  After recording hours of basement tapes in their home studio (see "Hardcore Devo: Volume One") with Mark's brothers Bob (AKA: Bob I - guitar) and Jim (drums), and after a couple of legendary early live dates (see "The Mongoloid Years"), Mark and Jerry came up with an idea for a short performance art film, which ended up being "The Truth About De-evolution (In The Beginning Was The End)."  Directed by Chuck Statler (who would direct the band's videos for years to come), the film featured many bizarre characters, including Devo's head honcho General Boy (Robert Mothersbaugh Sr., being a good sport), his mutant son, Booji (pronounced "boogie") Boy (played by Mark in a baby mask) and, of course, the then-fictitious band DEVO.  The film went on to win an award at the Ann Arbor Film Festival and managed to get the guys some attention around town.

The band recruited new members, Jerry's brother Bob (AKA: Bob II - guitar, synths) and Alan Myers (drums) and put out two indie 7" singles ("Mongoloid" b/w "Jocko Homo," both of which appeared in the film, and "Satisfaction" b/w "Sloppy") which managed to get distributed in the UK via the legendary Stiff Records.  After a fortuitous meeting with a fan named David Bowie, the band found themselves "bedding down with Bugs Bunny" (as Casale later put it) and signing a record contract with Warner Brothers.  Bowie, who was supposed to produce the album but couldn't find time in his schedule, referred them to his current music collaborator Brian Eno (Roxy Music) and the rest, as they say, is de-evolution.

Recorded mainly in Köln, Germany (where Bowie's "Low" and "Heroes" were recorded), "Are We Not Men..." (which takes its title from "The Island Of Dr. Moreau") perfectly encapsulates the Devo outlook and philosophy in 34 minutes.  All four of the band's indie singles were re-recorded for the album.  It is a remarkable debut album and a bizarre tour de force with wry observations on lust ("Uncontrollable Urge," "Gut Feeling"), working stiffs ("Mongoloid"), fatal accidents ("Space Junk," "Come Back Jonee"), religion ("Praying Hands"), fear ("Too Much Paranoias") and bizarre devolutionary manifestos ("Shrivel-Up," "Jocko Homo," the latter being the band's theme song)...and most importantly, not one dull moment.  Wiry, clangy guitars are to the fore here, with Alan Myers' incredible, complex drumming providing an exhausting backbeat, which results in a sort of new wave/surf rock hybrid.  Mark Mothersbaugh's truly amazing, acrobatic, high tenor vocals are on display throughout most of the album.  In other places, Jerry's slightly sneering vocals take the driver's seat ("Mongoloid").  Many of the songs are spasmodic and herky jerky, with an assembly line nervosa about them, including the band's robotic cover of The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," which is an absolute classic and arguably more interesting than the original.

Eno's production is both a marvel and a weakness.  Synthesizers--which would eventually become the band's calling card--are largely submerged in the background and are often barely audible (which makes no sense, as they were all over the place on Bowie's "Low").  They are pretty much limited to occasional punctuation in the songs ("Jocko Homo," "Uncontrollable Urge," "Praying Hands," "Sloppy") or supply rather tame sounding chords ("Gut Feeling," where the synth just sounds like a piano).  Additionally, while the sparse, twangy, guitar-driven sound works fine on songs like "Jocko Homo," "Praying Hands" and "Too Much Paranoias," in other places it leaves the songs sounding as if they were recorded down a well.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the brilliant opening salvo of "Uncontrollable Urge," one of the three or four punkiest songs the band ever committed to vinyl.  The song is one of the band's masterpieces but inevitably ends up sounding much more powerful in live recordings (see "Dev-o Live"or "The Mongoloid Years").

Wth one or two exceptions, pound for pound, admittedly, this features many of the band's finest songs--and definitely their strongest statements of purpose ("Jocko Homo," "Shrivel-Up," "Praying Hands")--although the production leaves something to be desired.  One thing's for sure: there was definitely nothing like this around in 1978...and nothing since.



After a classic appearance on "Saturday Night Live," in which the band, clad in yellow Tyvek jumpsuits, performed "Satisfaction" and "Jocko Homo," the band saddled up with yet another Bowie producer (and former Abbey Road engineer), Ken Scott.  Right off the bat, the album has a much different feel than its predecessor.  Ken Scott managed to pull off the same trick on this album that he accomplished with Bowie's "Aladdin Sane," adding stellar production which is much more closely mic'd, crisp, up front and in-your-face than Brian Eno's work on "Q&A."  The band is still wiry and frenetic (and, contrary to some reviews I've read, guitars *are* very much still a part of the sound), but synthesizers are all over the place...and they are certainly not subtle.  If you're a synth-head, the results are, quite simply, breathtaking.

The opening tune, "Devo Corporate Anthem," is very much a Mark Mothersbaugh creation: an instrumental synth processional sounding not unlike gladiator music.  The tail end of "Clockout" is filled with dirty, whirring, ascending analog synth lines (that even go beyond the range of human hearing at the end of the song); "Wiggly World" is full of alarming, buzzing synths and laser noises; incidental assembly line noises are thrown into "Pink Pussycat"; warm pads and pings and boings dominate "Swelling Itching Brain"; "Red Eye" opens with a piercing, dirty, analog synth blast; "Strange Pursuit," with its dance beat and percolating synth bass, forecasts the "Freedom Of Choice" album.

And lest we not forget the songs themselves: while the lyrical fare isn't quite as biting as it was on "Q&A," the Devo philosophy is still very much in full force.  "Wiggly World" is another manifesto song, which quotes directly from the "Devo Oath" ("they say the fittest shall survive/yet the unfit may live/let 'em wear gaudy colors or avoid display/hey, it don't matter, it's all the same").  There are more bizarre character studies: "Triumph Of The Will" is written from the perspective of what sounds like a rapist ("it was a thing I had to do/it was a message from below"); "The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprize" is from the view of a boyfriend whose girl ends up in the hospital; "Swelling Itching Brain" revisits the themes of "Too Much Paranoias"; then you've got the nerdy pervs of "Clockout" and "Pink Pussycat" who fall over themselves with hackneyed, laughable sexual imagery ("I got the big brush for your bowl," "I wanna touch your fur now...gonna stand your fur on end").  But the centerpiece of this album is the opus "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA," which is to "Duty Now..." what the medleys are to side two of The Beatles' "Abbey Road": the culmination of every synth sound, character quirk and production trick the band and Ken Scott had up their sleeve.  The whole song is a battle between the Smart Patrol (AKA: Devo) and the inimitable Mr. DNA ("here to spread some genes").  The first half of the song is basically a march, but the second half of the song picks up the pace significantly and turns into a post-punk anthem.   The imagery and philosophy is confusing (read: interesting), but one thing is for sure: it is the clear standout on the album and one of Devo's finest works.

There are a few weak points: Devo's kinda-sorta cover of "Secret Agent Man," which changes most of the lyrics and melody, isn't nearly as biting or clever as "Satisfaction."  (The basement version of "Secret Agent Man," which is vastly superior, sadly has not been released on CD).  "Swelling, Itching Brain" sports some interesting bubbling synth bass work and neat pings and boings, but ultimately runs on far too long.  Overall, most of the songs don't have the urgency of purpose or hooks of "Q&A," but it's easy to overlook with such imaginative production.  The songs may not be quite as immediately memorable as the ones on "Q&A" but the clarity, diversity of material, intensity and *relentless* arsenal of analog synths make this one of Devo's absolute best records.  It is usually #1 or #2 in my ranking.  (NOTE: "Duty Now..." should be REQUIRED LISTENING for all "emo" and related bands.  Lesson one: PLAY THE SYNTHS LOUD or don't play 'em at all!).  All I can say is's a shame Ken Scott didn't produce the first album.

NOTE:  The Infinite Zero re-release contained two excellent bonus tracks: a studio remake of "Soo Bawlz," an anthem for coquettes everywhere, and, ironically, "Penetration In The Centrefold," a UK b-side from the perspective of guys who just go nuts over pornography.  The latter is the closest to punk rock the band ever got...period!  Both bonus tracks are essential pieces of the Devo puzzle.  Devo also recorded a wiry version of the folk standard "It Takes A Worried Man," which appeared in Neil Young's film "The Human Highway" and, in 2000, on the Rhino compilation "Pioneers Who Got Scalped."



Devo sells out (I am joking...seriously).  After steadily gaining notoriety, Devo decides to take the big corporate reamer and offer up an album of (seemingly) commercial, concise pop songs.  Produced by the band themselves "in association with Robert Margouleff," "Freedom Of Choice" is the "corporate album" the band had vowed to make since 1978.  Even the classic cover, with its image of the band in matching silver suits and red "energy domes" standing in a line alongside American flags, seemed to be a wry comment on corporate society (making the title "Freedom Of Choice" even more of a delicious irony).  Most people probably didn't get the joke, but the album did go as high as #22 and resulted in a high charting single for the band in "Whip It" (read: the only Devo song most people know) as well as a glut of video airplay on MTV the following year.  "Freedom..." takes the warm, closely mic'd live sound of "Duty Now..." and boxes it essence, the album sounds as if it was recorded in a closet, which results in a claustrophic but extremely punchy little album of 12 new wave pop gems.  Sadly, the sci-fi laser synths and frenetic vocals of "Duty Now..." are virtually non-existent here, but the album doesn't seem too much worse for the wear because of it.  All instruments are still being played live and the band sounds very much like a garage band.  Breezy rhythm guitars buzz away; Jerry's clunky synth bass makes an appearance throughout; synths and guitars work in tandem to create a very streamlined, punchy sound; a lot of negative space and minimalism is used.  Essentially, it's a synthpop album without being synthpop.

Lyrically, the album was Devo's most relatively normal yet, with some songs such as "Girl U Want" (Devo's take on "My Sharona") sounding like typical new wave love songs.  Elsewhere, though, the fare was archetypal Devo: "Gates Of Steel" concerned itself with devolutionary matters ("the ape regards his tail/he's stuck on it/repeats until he fails"); the title track, which grooved to a menacing beat of what sounded like giant steel jaws chomping down repeatedly, was the band's most political anthem to date; "Mr. B's Ballroom" (which started out as a love song...see "Recombo DNA") detailed a strange encounter with the police; "Planet Earth" conveyed a lamenting, albeit resigned, atttitude towards life on earth; and, of course, there's "Whip It," which nobody can quite figure out to this day.  Sado-massochist anthem?  Or tribute to human perserverance?  Or neither?  Either way, the song hit #14 on the dance charts, making beautiful mutants (and ugly spuds) everywhere shake their collective asses to something that actually had some intellect to it...meaning Devo got the last laugh.

The one bummer here is that the album seems very frontloaded, with most of the strongest tracks ending up on side one.  Side two does have its charms ("Gates Of Steel," "Don't You Know") but doesn't quite pack the punch of side one.  Even though this album will forever be burned into my memory, it feels a little uneven.  Having said that, as Devo's "commercial album," it's still an undisputed classic with a great, cohesive, warm, live sound quite unlike any other.  It is also their last guitar oriented album.

NOTE:  The cool, frenetic paranoia anthem "Turnaround," released as the b-side of "Whip It"--and covered by no less than Nirvana!--cropped up on an import 2-for-1 disc of "Freedom..." and "Oh No! It's Devo."  As of this writing, it is the *only* place once can procure the track on compact disc.


"DEV-O LIVE" (1981)

In August 1980, riding high on the relative success of the "Freedom Of Choice" LP, a Devo concert at the Warfield in San Francisco was recorded for broadcast on the King Biscuit Flower Hour.  The broadcast never happened, but the concert was issued as a promo-only vinyl LP, part of the "Warner Bros. Music Show" series.  A few months later, six tracks from the show were issued on an EP entitled "Dev-o Live" in a clear plastic sleeve with a cardboard flat.  Then, in 2000, Rhino Handmade (bless 'em) released a compact disc version of the rare full concert performance, even issuing it in a replica of the clear plastic sleeve.  The concert itself is quite a treat, with a generous helping of tracks from "Q&A," "Duty Now..." and "Freedom..." and one relative rarity, a live reading of the rare anthem "Be Stiff" which hadn't found its way onto an album as of that point.  (In fact, the only major single missing seems to be "Satisfaction.")  The band is in great form, the crowd is filled with enthusiastic spuds and spudesses, and the recording itself is polished and tight, giving plenty of volume to the synths.  Perhaps best of all, we get treated to an incredible version of the concert staple "Smart/Patrol Mr. DNA" (admittedly, some of the synths were mixed a bit low in places on this track) *and* a superior version of one of Devo's finest songs, "Uncontrollable Urge."  With dirty, distorted guitars and a hotbed of energy, Devo nails this version to the wall.  A great concert and a great release, done with integrity by Rhino Handmade.  Well worth picking up.  (

NOTE:  The short EP version of this concert cropped up on an import 2-for-1 disc with--bizarrely--"Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!"



This is usually the point in the story when people claim the band went "downhill" because of the prominence of synthesizers and lack of spasmodic energy so prevalent on the early material.  To those who bemoan the fact that Devo transitioned from a wiry guitar band with occasional synths to a full-blown synthpop band, I offer the following piece of advice: don't get uptight, spud.  The band had been saying since at least 1978 that their goal was to "de-emphasize" guitars, and by 1981 they were beginning to follow through with that promise.

Devo's first wholly self-produced effort, "New Traditionalists" takes the in-your-face sound of "Duty Now For The Future" and boxy production of "Freedom Of Choice" a step further by relying mainly on synthetics and dry production.  Drum machines are employed on at least half the tracks (with some tracks using what sounds like a combination of drum machines and live ones).  The guitars are almost completely absent and only crop up a few times for solos ("Beautiful World") or acrobatics ("Pity You").  Synths provide not only the lead and countermelodies but also many of the rhythms or pads.  Additionally, the punctuating synth effects of "Duty Now" are back, but are much more toned down.  The result is Devo's first all out foray into the realm of synthpop, and probably the most robotic album they ever recorded.

Lyrically, "New Traditionalists" is less playful than previous efforts but has a little bit of everything: geek anthems ("Through Being Cool"), kiss-off songs ("Pity You," "Jerkin' Back 'N' Forth"), tales of lust ("Going Under," "Soft Things"), analytical love songs ("Love Without Anger"), political and social commentary ("Enough Said," "Race Of Doom") and of course the piez de resistance, "Beautiful World," probably the band's most cynical anthem to date.  Jerry sings about the beautiful world we live in and the beautiful people in it, and then proceeds to drop a bomb on us by stating "it's a beautiful world...for you...not me!"  (This was played up beautifully in the music video, which featured footage of KKK rallies, lynchings, starving children and nuclear explosions, to name but a few atrocities.)  In fact, this album feels very heavily slanted towards Jerry Casale, in both its glum outlook *and* in the lead vocals department.  I often have a hard time differentiating Mark's voice from Jerry's, but I swear Jerry sings lead on at least 80% of this album, which makes me wonder what happened to Mark (perhaps he was burned out by touring?).  The result is a more serious, cynical and even scientific album.

This was my first or second favorite Devo album for a very long time, but nowadays might slip to #3 or so in my ranking.  Some of the band's trademark humor is gone and a few of the songs seem a little flat.  Still, it's a pretty cohesive package from start to finish with compact, danceable grooves (without falling into the post-disco rut of later albums), great synth work and clever lyrics.  Devo's music was once called "dance music for science labs," and nowhere is that description more fitting than on this album.

NOTE: Devo recorded a fairly clever industrial version of "Working In The Coalmine" (their last decent cover song) during this period for inclusion in the film "Heavy Metal."  After that song charted, WB pressed up thousands of copies of a one-sided single and included them in the vinyl pressings of "New Traditionalists."  Most CDs carry "Coalmine" as a bonus track.  The Infinite Zero re-release included two b-sides, the frenetic "Mecha-Mania Boy" (great song...lousy mix) and the cool spoken word "Nutra Speaks."


"OH NO! IT'S DEVO" (1982)

There is one line of lyrics from the closing song on this album, "Deep Sleep," which seems to sum up the whole proceedings: "a smile is just a frown turned around on the face of a clown with a mean streak."  And "Oh No! It's Devo" does in fact seem to come across as one big, sinister joke from the band.  A self-described "dark period" for the band (the details of which are unknown), "Oh No!..." continues in the vein of "New Traditionalists," but with newer equipment, more clarity and more space used in the mixes, courtesy of Roy Thomas Baker (who'd worked with The Cars and Queen).  Punctuating synth noises are used much more prominently than on "New Traditionalists," and the band seems to be in an altogether more typical Devo mood, with sinister humor to the fore.  Curiously, there is no space inserted *between* the songs, ramming all the songs up against one another in a relentless onslaught of synthpop.

Musically, the album is pretty much dominated by dance music, but in a very good way.  The throbbing bass and whomping drums are augmented by a panoplay of vintage analog sounds, gurgling melody lines, swirling sound effects, coarse clicking noises, crescendoing bass notes, and cold, hard, industrial rhythms.  Guitar is almost completely absent, as are "real" drums (which would lead Alan Myers to doubt his role within the band...more on that later).  All three of the singles were aimed at the dancefloor, but also sported the usual Devo-esque lyrics: "Big Mess" was based on a bizarre letter received by a game show host from a psychotic fan ("I'm a man with a mission/a boy with a gun/I got a picture in my pocket of the lucky one"); "Peek-A-Boo!" was one of the band's darker songs as of late, with nefarious laughter cropping up in the choruses (portrayed in the video by an evil clown and a huge pirate who kicks over the members of Devo one by one); "That's Good" talked about the "things that you can do without" and warned that "life's a bee without a buzz/it's going great 'til you get stung."  Elsewhere on the album, the material ranged from goofy (the opener, "Time Out For Fun"), to thoughtful ruminations ("Patterns"), to urgent statements of purpose ("What I Must Do," "Explosions") to the completely random (the spoken word "Speed Racer," with its cast of Speed Racer, a big pirate, a Barbie doll and a doctor, all taking turns speaking).  "I Desire," which comes across as a typically obsessive but ultimately innocuous Devo lust song, even had lyrics culled from a poem by John Hickley ("I pledge allegiance to the thought/that your love is all that matters/and your gestures have the power/to bring the whole world to its knees"), which, suffice to say, brought both Jodie Foster and the CIA to Devo's door.

Though many disregard this period of Devo's music, I maintain that this is the last truly great album the band recorded and possibly even a step up from "New Traditionalists."  It may even be their best album of the '80s.  Dark, dancy, mysterious ear candy...and the songs here all have a little more character than on the predecessor.  But if you're not a total synth-head, tread softly.

NOTE: The Infinite Zero re-release included a bevy of b-sides.  "Find Out," with its whomping tribal drumbeat, quirky synths and weary lyrics was a particular highlight.  Also includes "Part Of You," two "Peek-A-Boo!" remixes and--bizarrely--two "Here To Go" remixes (even though they should have gone on the "Shout" re-release).


"SHOUT" (1984)

By this point, most critics think Devo had long since jumped the shark.  I'm going to go for broke and say that's a load of poot.  Another self-produced effort, "Shout" continues the sound of "Oh No! It's Devo," but with more modern technology, a *lot* more reverb in the mix (the production is starting to get overblown) and almost none of the sinister humor of "Oh No!..."...but it certainly has its moments.  As a Devo album, it's a long way from "Q & A," but as a synthpop album taken as a whole, it reveals Devo still in the game and a head above the competition in terms of technology.

The opening horn blasts of the title cut *are* a bit sterile and seem to scream "I'm a Yamaha DX7!," but once the song gets started it's an enjoyable, bouncy synth pop number with Devo's typically cynical lyrics.  (It even seems to suggest that the band felt this would be their final record, with the line "I'm shoutin' for the very last time").  In fact, most of the lyrics are still pretty interesting, if not exactly up there with their earlier efforts.  "The Satisfied Mind," "The 4th Dimension" and "Here To Go" all revisit themes familiar to Devotees.  The goofy "Puppet Boy" echoes past glories but is unique in that Booji Boy makes his debut appearance on record, as--you guessed it--the Puppet Boy himself (who submits some "answer vocals" to Jerry's lead in the bridges).  It also features typically cryptic Devo sentiments like "stay out of bed unless you want to get wet."  One song, "Jurisdiction Of Love," even seems to be a rewrite of "Love Without Anger" (lyrically, not musically).  The musical in-jokes are more subtle than, say, the loud as hell analog synth blasts on "Duty Now For The Future" or nefarious laughter of "Peek-A-Boo!," but still crop up from time to time (for instance, the main riff of "Day Tripper" crops up in "The 4th Dimension").  However, the one most loaded joke on the album--a synthpop cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced?"--is the one that falls flat on its face.  Almost entirely humorless (save for the closing line "not necessarily beautiful...but mutated!") and unremarkable, it's certainly no surprise that it flopped as a single.

While this would not be the band's final studio album, it *was* their last for Warner Brothers (who had been falling out with the band for years) and, regrettably, the last with drummer Alan Myers.  A dejected Myers quit after sensing his role diminishing within the band (and given that most of these tracks use drum machines, one can't blame him).  Even though "Shout" finds the spud boys wandering further down the avenue of technopop than ever before, the Devo philosophy is still fairly prevalent throughout.  "Shout" is certainly an aural treat for any synth-head to listen to and, save for two or three tracks, holds up pretty well on its own.

NOTE: The Infinite Zero re-release includes a really cool b-side, "Growing Pains."  It was also in this year that Devo recorded the theme song to the Dan Aykroyd film "Doctor Detroit," which appears on the 2000 compilation "Pioneers Who Got Scalped."


Matt F. writes:

Finally, someone who actually (at the very least) *likes* "Shout." The reviews I've seen elsewhere tend to be really lame; they never explain why they think the music is more boring and whatnot. While "Shout" certainly isn't their best (that belongs to "Duty Now"-- crazy synth faux-punk!) it's still really quite something. I like almost every song on the album (even that song you don't like at the end) and I find it crazy that only two people out there (you and me) find it to be pretty good.

Regarding the other reviews, I agree for the most part. Personally, I think "Q&A" is a little overrated, while "Duty Now" and "Oh No" are seriously underrated.

Eh. Anyway, so for rambling. I loved your reviews and am so, so glad to find someone who appreciates their later work almost as much as their early stuff. Thanks for the good read.


Sometime in the late '70s or early '80s, the members of Devo must have found themselves bored and with too much time on their hands...particularly Mark Mothersbaugh.  They cooked up some hokey instrumental versions of ten of their biggest songs from their first four albums and put them out on a fan club only cassette release called "E-Z Listening Muzak."  A few years later, they put out a second volume of muzak versions of some of their later songs and then, in 1987, both cassettes were combined by Ryko onto one disc, resulting in the "EZ Listening Disc."  It should be noted that most of these songs are not so much "covers" as they are alternate arrangements, sometimes featuring significant alterations to the melodies and chords.

The results vary.  Most of the songs from their first album ("Mongoloid," "Space Junk," "Jocko Homo," "Come Back Jonee," "Satisfaction") are treated to very minimal arrangements centered around an old clunky organ, most of which aren't very engaging.  (One wonders if these were recorded soon after their first album came out, and on a shoestring budget.)  "Jocko Homo" is even based on a groove sounding like the first couple of bars of "Copacabana."  The later material tends to be much more interesting and thought out, utilizing better equipment: "Gates Of Steel" has a nice, baroque feel to it; "Girl U Want" and "Whip It" (the latter appearing in the credits of the "We're All Devo" video) effectively conjure up the sound of assembly lines, "Girl" even throwing in a touch of Ennio Morricone; "Pity You" is based on an amazing, cascading, swirling synth line and features stately, military synth snare; "Going Under" conjures up seedy jazz clubs; and "4th Dimension" is given a comical '60s surf arrangement.  But the highlight is probably "Peek-A-Boo!", turned into a hysterical full-on cowboy number, replete with twangy guitars, cow noises, whip cracks and yet another reference to Ennio Morricone, this time directly quoting the score to "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly."  Perhaps the most bizarre version is "Beautiful World," based on what sounds like a sample of a '20s ragtime record.

Since Mark Mothersbaugh was the synth-head of the group and eventually ended up scoring movies and TV shows, one gets the feeling this is very much a Mark project.  The more polished material here even sounds like his later score work (his trademark corny synth trumpets and harmonicas are all over this record).  Not surprisingly, Mark, in an internet chat from the late '90s, glibly cited "E-Z Listening Disc" as his favorite Devo material.  Seeing as how it was an independent, non-corporate project, it was probably quite pleasurable to make.  It definitely has its clever moments, but it's difficult to sit through the entire thing and will ultimately leave even the most hardcore of Devotees wanting to throw on the real versions.  For obsessive fans, completists and muzak/score fans only!


"TOTAL DEVO" (1988)

It has been said that most great artists end up sounding like a parody of themselves sooner or later.  Nowhere is that more true in the Devo catalog than on "Total Devo."  In fact, substitute the word "Devo" in the title with a scatological four letter word of your choice and you have a more accurate representation of the material within.

After a four year absence, Devo returned without original drummer Alan Myers (replaced by David Kendrick, who had drummed with both Sparks and The Gleaming Spires in the '80s) and with a new record label, Enigma.  What is shocking about "Total Devo" is how unabashedly MOR the whole affair is.  In essence, the punning title ("total de-evolution") really does ring true, as this is about as low as it got in the spud boys' career.  The album fails for a number of reasons: the music finds the band more *digital* synth obsessed than ever before, leaving the songs sounding stale (in other words, it's hard for even a synth-head such as myself to get into this album).  The lyrics are almost relentlessly dopey or even...normal.  In fact, the social comment that made the band famous is largely absent, except for a few half-hearted attempts, such as in the song "Some Things Never Change" (which, bizarrely, openly cops the opening line of The Beatles' "A Day In The Life").  Instead of aiming their spudguns at society at large, the band takes some potshots at a couple of easy targets in "The Shadow" (Jim and Tammy Bakker) which somehow lessens the impact of their commentary (not to mention datestamps it firmly in the late 1980s forever).  But what is especially disturbing is the utter lack of humor, nervous energy or urgency that was Devo's calling card.  Even "Shout" managed to retain a bit of's pretty much completely absent here.  Many songs find the band wandering around in a sea of post-disco nonsense with listless synthetic grooves and long pauses between vocal segments, which utterly bores the listener.  The two singles, "Baby Doll" and "Disco Dancer," are both rather pointless dancefloor anthems with lyrics that sound as if they were written as an afterthought.  (I can only hope the band made a conscious decision to release a big, dumb dance album as a joke...but I doubt it.)  The band submitted an industrial cover of Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel" here, but unlike their previous cover versions, it is entirely humorless, which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt how their "cover a classic rock song" shtick should have stopped at "Working In A Coalmine."

In my humble opinion, if "Shout" had been their final studio album, the band would have had a catalogue they could be pretty proud of from stem to stern.  This album presents a major blemish.  The less words spent on it, the better.


Patrick K. writes:

I think Total Devo has a bit more going for it than you give it credit for, here.  First, the dopeyness is deliberate and meant to showcase the band's sense of humor about itself, which has always been key for Devo.  Hence the subtitle, "Eleven Digital Cartoons by the De-Evolution Band."  All these songs and the sounds used on them are a bit tongue-in-cheek in a distinctively Devo way––some more so than others.  Second, I think the lyrics are worth closer attention.  In a number of places, it seems to me they're talking sincerely about heartfelt matters.  Finally, I think Total Devo has several redeeming songs that make it truly worthwhile.  "Baby Doll" can be appreciated as an unabashed synthpop dance tune somewhat in the mold of Oh No, without that album's dark undercurrent and snide subtlety.  What "Baby Doll" does have in its lyrics is Devolutionary lust, resentment, and dejection, causing and consequent on that nerdy sexual and romantic confusion that is characteristically Devo:  "Quick-tempered queen knows what she wants, and what I've got is what it's not!"  Next, I really like "Plain Truth."  It's bittersweet, wistful, and reflective in a philosophical spirit that is thoroughly Devo:  "These symbols we believe in sometimes turn inside out, reshaping each dimension we're so sure about . . ."  These lyrics might sound trite at first, but I don't think they are.  The words are coupled nicely with the plaintive, simple melody in a way that really works.  And I have the feeling that they mean what they are saying here.  If there's one song that redeems the album, it's "Plain Truth."  Then there's the cover of "Don't Be Cruel."  It's hilarious!  Listen to the "do-wahs" throughout the song and the "wuhs" at the end; pure Elvis-mocking cheese, along with some self-mockery on Devo's part.  I think "Agitated" is a serious song about chronic anxiety, career ambivalence, and feelings of regretful dislocation with which we Devolutionary humans can all sympathize.  "Man Turned Inside Out" isn't so bad either.  And "Blow Up" is yet another Devo lust song that voices ambivalence about sexual desire as entailing loss of control. 


It's a grim irony that Devo's 1990 studio album opens up with a track called "Stuck In A Loop."  By 1990, Devo couldn't have been any further out of "the loop" than they were.  Devo, as a band, were pretty much just a side project now.  Mark Mothersbaugh in particular had become more of a solo artist, doing score work for a number of television shows (among them the theme song to "Pee-wee's Playhouse").  Devo's brand of technopop that had been on display on "Total Devo" had become even more of a relic of the past.  Synths in general had become more digital and less evocative.  The charts were now being dominated by innocuous dance acts, teen idols and watered down second generation glam rock bands, all of whom had absolutely nothing interesting or relevant nothing to say.  And I have to think the guys were also none too thrilled with the prospect of yet another member of the Grand Old Poot sitting in the White House in George Herbert Walker Bush.

It's in this murky climate that the band emerged from the shadows after a two year absence with the curious "Smoothnoodlemaps," and while it's pretty much nothing more than a last gasp, it does prove to be an improvement on its predecessor.  This time around, Devo has almost no pretensions of being either gloom and doom merchants or a listless dance band, instead focusing largely on nice synth textures and memorable melodies.  (And in case you didn't believe the band had calmed down, there's even a track with the lame title "Devo Has Feelings Too").  The long, drawn out dance grooves of "Total Devo" are gone.  Instead, a more poppy, at ease, cartoonish Devo emerges, with short, snappy songs.  The album's opener, "Stuck In A Loop"--sounding not unlike Mark's TV work--absolutely bursts from the speakers.  The first single, "Post Post Modern Man," is astonishing: not only is it the single poppiest song the band ever committed to wax but it features--gasp--an acoustic guitar!  Oddly enough, the band ditches its outsider persona on most of the record and lays absolutely bare its human side on songs like "When We Do It" ("when we do it/I hope it's we/and not just me") and "Spin The Wheel" ("when I was young I thought I stood on solid ground/well that proved wrong/everything I knew was true just blew up in my face"), the latter confirming without a shadow of a doubt that Devo had simply become...well...old.

Social comment is back on some of the tracks, but often comes off as too heavy handed and, like "Total Devo," reveals the band as being too self-aware: "A Change Is Gonna Cum" sports lines like "ozone layer starts to disappear/spaceman makes it with an alien girl/scientists prove we were never here!", all to an incongruous backing track that sounds more like video game music; "Devo Has Feelings Too" contains way too much sloganeering, with lines like "look around/shakey ground/do the right thing/in this world you're just a guest" and far too many obvious, token references to TV preachers, JFK, world leaders and news anchors (it'll have you longing for the days of "Enough Said").  There's also an entirely humorless cover of "Morning Dew" that admittedly has some nice baroque synth trappings.  In fact, overall, the synths on the album are interesting--certainly much moreso than on the previous album--such as the wiggly and percolating synths of "Pink Jazz Trancers" (though I still don't know what the hell a "pink jazz trancer" is).

Having said all this, there is one true standout song that reveals the quintessentially cynical, slightly sinister Devo while going in a completely new direction: that would be "Jimmy," perhaps the single most pointed, acerbic and flat out evil song the band ever recorded...and also one of their funniest.  If you doubt this, the main refrain of the song is a sick take on the old folk song "Blue Tail Fly": "Jimmy's in a wheelchair and I don't care."  It relates the story of a guy who's basically an all around bastard: he's the president of a company and lies, cheats and steals, beats his wife, screams at his son...and somehow ends up in a wheelchair.  (*Snicker*)  Amid upward whirling synthesizers almost recalling "Smart Patrol," Mark sings "justice strikes every once in a while": definitely a departure from the less judgmental, more journalistic outlook of early Devo songs.  And what's most disquieting about the song is that we're never actually told what put Jimmy in that wheelechair, which just adds to its sinister charm.

While certainly not up to the caliber of their early albums--or even "Shout"--"Smoothnoodlemaps" certainly has its moments.  It was a smart turn away from the soulless dance music of "Total Devo" towards a more relaxed, poppy sound: and it's simply a much more listenable album than its predecessor.  The synths overall are more colorful and quirky and the arrangements are tight and brief (the album clocks in at only 34 minutes for 11 songs).  Devo's time had come, however, as a tour for the album was cancelled after only a few dates due to poor ticket sales.  On that note, the Spudboys decided to call it a day.



While at Kent State University in the early 1970s, Mark and Jerry, along with Mark's brothers Jim and Bob, began recording primitive demos in their basement studio in Akron, Ohio, as well as performing some inauspicious live dates (see "The Mongoloid Years").  In the early '90s, Rykodisc decided to put out two volumes of these basement tapes, which provided a virtual treasure trove of unreleased material for Devotees.  These basement demos are about as pure as the Devo philosophy ever got: gritty, ugly, twangy, minimalist and--most importantly--untarnished by the big corporate honchos.  The lyrics often lapse into the juvenile (which proves the whole theory, you see), the production is dry and low-fi, as one might expect, and the instruments all sound slightly skewered.  The electric guitar sounds brittle, as if it's being played out of a miniature amp; synths are coarse and unpolished; and then there's Jim Mothersbaugh's homemade electronic drums, which place the band somewhere in the realm of Kraftwerk.  Most importantly, these basement tapes reveal the band's influences more overtly than any other recordings they made (Captain Beefheart, The Residents, Frank Zappa, the aforementioned Kraftwerk).

"Volume One" is a wisely chosen collection of (relatively) more accessible material, such as interesting basement demos of "Satisfaction," "Jocko Homo" and "Mongoloid" (none of which are the original 7" single versions).  "Auto Modown" is a hilarious funk-reggae sendup about "an acid head goon in a '55 dodge" who mows down anyone in his way; the funky "Space Girl Blues" is a great example of Devo's twisted view of lust ("I want your mechanism/give me your mechanism"); "Social Fools" slams the Devo philosophy down hard ("if you obey society's rules/you'll be society's tools"); "I'm A Potato," an anthem taken at a frenetic shuffle pace that details a brave new world where society ends up dying out like dinosaurs, reveals Devo's early obsession with the potato aesthetic ("I'm a spudman/I got eyes all around"); the bluesy rocker "Stop, Look And Listen" is an early attempt at a Devo theme song ("I feel 'em coming, gonna mess up the plumbing/it's D-E-V-O from O-H-I-O!").

But it isn't all smooth sailing: one of the highlights, "Mechanical Man," is about as robotic as the band ever got, with its 3/4 time and minimalist vocodered vocals; "Buttered Beauties" is a bizarre story of lust ("buttered beauties of the negroid north/spread your glossy tallow on me") with equally bizarre music; "Midget" is a pointless funk tune with a relentless vamp and another bizarre storyline, this time about a midget who enjoys hiding underneath his mom's skirts ("she thought it was all innocent play").

"Hardcore Devo: Volume One" is a pretty enjoyable listening experience throughout and reveals just how visionary the band was in its infancy.  (Jerry has stated his preference for these early tapes over the band's actual studio recordings.)  But be forewarned: there's a reason these discs are called "Hardcore Devo": if you like low-fi music, bizarre lyrics, the Devo philosophy and the aforementioned influences, you're sure to like them.  But if your tastes lean towards the commercial, you might just be frightened by what you hear.



More hardcore than before...and I mean that in a number of ways.  Not only are there more tracks (21, compared to volume one's 15), but the sound quality varies much more from track to track and the songs tend to be even more bizarre and less accessible than the first volume.  Unless you're a *real* Devotee, a fan of ultra-low fi records or a card carrying member of the Captain Beefheart fan club, it's more than a bit difficult to make it through all 21 tracks.

Whereas the first volume felt like it had some cohesion to it, the band went all over the map with this one.  That's not to say the disc isn't without its highlights.  "Can You Take It?" serves as yet another early Devo anthem, cataloging curious anomalies in the world and throwing in some random nonsense ("dreamed I laid a toaster/daddy caught me in the act").  "Goo Goo Itch" is one of the most hilarious "love songs" I've ever heard, relegating amorous intentions to the infantile ("it's baby love that comes from up above/move on over, I wanna get closer/move on over, wanna twaddle with you").  "Fountain Of Filth" is such an accomplished song that it sounds like it could have been recorded for "Freedom Of Choice."  It's a tight, snappy dance groove with a thudding bassline, with lyrics about the "eternal fountain of filth," which sprays its unwitting victims (humanoids) and gives them urges they cannot control ("I got a hunger that makes me do things/I got a hunger that makes me say things/I got a hunger that makes me want things/I'm just a victim of filth").  The brief "Let's Go" apes the sound of a college fight song and adds some hilarious synth laser blasts.

Unfortunately, some of the songs are based on endless, repetitive riffs that go nowhere ("The Rope Song," "Chango").  One song--"Fraulein"--is even based on Carl Stalling's "Powerhouse."  Some songs hint at greatness but don't quite go the extra mile, such as "37," sung by Bob I, with its loaded refrain of "I'm envious of your IQ of 37."  "Bottled Up" sounds like a harmless pop love song and, lyrically, is a precursor to "The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprize" ("doctor say you ain't got long to live/nurse says you ain't got much to give"), but its relentless out of tune synth lead is really annoying.  The anthemic "All Of Us" contains lyrics which would appear in "Going Under," but drones on for five minutes.  An early version of "Working In A Coalmine" is nearly identical to the studio remake, and early takes of "Clockout" and "Be Stiff" are taken at a snail's pace.  Booji Boy even makes a vocal appearance on the ultra-bizarre "U Got Me Bugged," but the vocal has such an annoying, robotic effect on it that you can't even understand what's being sung.  There's also a disturbingly misogynistic tone to some of the songs here.  "Bamboo Bimbo," "Baby Talkin' Bitches," "I Need A Chick" and "I Been Refused" especially all contain a cavalcade of objectifying, machismo-laden lyrics and bizarre, twisted sexual innuendoes.  Knowing Devo, I've got to assume this was their sly take on the overly macho hard rock of the 1970s, but it's often hard to know if it's a joke or not.

"Hardcore Devo: Volume Two" is definitely not for beginners, and in some respects it's not even for hardcore fans.  There's a lot of innovation and humor here, but at least half of the songs miss the mark in one way or another.  The fidelity and songwriting is not as consistent as it was on "Volume One," and at 21 songs, it's definitely not an easy meal to digest.  "Can U Take It?"



Culled by Jerry and Bob Casale from over 50 hours of pre-record deal live recordings and requiring "1000s of Q-tips, a case of head cleaner and weeks of primate-style head scratching," this disc compiles the best from three early Devo live performances.  They're sequenced in reverse chronological order, giving an insight into the evolution, or de-evolution, of the band.  The intensity, hunger and downright recalcitrance of the young band is on full display, despite the often poor quality of the tapes.

The disc begins with a set from Max's Kansas City in May of 1977, the same evening they signed a record deal with Warner Bros.  By this time Devo had acquired quite a name for themselves and are playing for an audience who seems to "get" what they're doing...hell, they even cheer once they recognize the intro to "Mongoloid."  The nine selections here are comprised mostly of songs from "Q&A," with one extremely notable exception, a completely mesmerizing, raw take of "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA," with incredible synth work.  Alan Myers is particularly on fire throughout the set (check out his amazing fills in the choruses of "Gut Feeling"), and many of the songs are much faster than their studio counterparts.  Indeed, "Sloppy" is taken at such an amazingly frenetic pace that guitarist Bob I misses his pass at the guitar riff a few times.  Mark is in rare form, taking a few moments in "Praying Hands" to rap with the audience and even chants "Spud!  Spud!  Spud!" at a few of them.  Jerry contributes some extended, blood-curdling screams to the breakdowns of "Sloppy" which are downright frightening.  But the real highlight here is an absolutely unstoppable take of "Uncontrollable Urge," with thunderous drums and guitars cranked up to 11, which shows just how utterly weak and badly produced the studio version is.  You can even hear certain members of the audience go nuts when Devo comes to the edge of the stage to do their classic diamond formation during the song's last bridge section.

The second set, from The Crypt in Akron in December 1976, isn't quite as thrilling but does sport some fine versions of four songs from "Duty Now For The Future" (bizarre, as that record was released *after* "Q&A").  Of particular note is a frenetic reading of "Timing X" (an unlisted track after "Clockout") and a rare live performance of the incredible b-side "Soo Bawls."

The final set is an *infamous* Halloween gig from Cleveland, Ohio in 1975 and is ushered in by a two minute rant by a *very* high/drunk and *very* obnoxious Murray the K: a fine example of "low devo."  The band had weaseled their way into this gig (opening for Sun Ra, no less) by telling the promoters--WHK Radio--that they were a Bad Company cover band.  (*Snicker*)  At this point, the band was a skeletal four piece, consisting of Mark, Bob I, Jerry and Jim Mothersbaugh on homemade electronic drums.  The band had adopted fake personas, the most notable of which is Mark's Booji Boy character which would be a mainstay of Devo's aesthetic for many years to come.  The other characters included China Man (Jerry), Jungle Jim (Jim) and Clown (Bob I).  The best way to describe this set is with one word: "nightmarish."  The set opens with a spacy, absolutely tuneless blues jam called "Subhuman Woman."  It devolves into more idle jamming and a reading of the rare "Bamboo Bimbo."  Most of the audience had fled by this point, with the band going into a rather earnest, pervy love song called "Beulah," humorously introduced by Gerry as "one from Gerry and the Pacemakers."  The set culminates with a harrowing version of "Jocko Homo" (incorrectly ID'd on the disc as track's actually part of track 16), which is the first ever live performance of the song.  Mark ends up confronting the audience (what's left of them) which ends in a verbal brawl.  As the band jams on "I Need A Chick," someone unplugs Bob I's guitar amp and they end up getting thrown off the stage, which results in a heated exchange between him and someone in the audience, which you must crank the volume to hear.  Described in the liner notes as a "practical joke," this set is admittedly kind of funny and important from a historical perspective but doesn't exactly make for captivating listening.  It's more like a car accident that you just can't look away from.

All in all, this is quite a collection of live performances from the band when they were still young and hungry, the first set being an absolute highlight and an essential listen for any Devotee.  While the disc on the whole is certainly not as pleasing a listen as the expanded "Devo Live," it's still fascinating as a sociology study unto itself (particularly the last set).


"RECOMBO DNA" (2000)

In 2000, Rhino Handmade gave spuds everywhere two reasons to rejoice.  In addition to their excellent reissue of "Dev-o Live," they put together a whopping two disc collection of rarities, demos, outtakes, and live tracks entitled "Recombo DNA."  The word 'round the web was that this was what "Pioneers Who Got Scalped: The Anthology" was *supposed* to be, but, like everything in life, the plans changed.  Like "Pioneers," disc one is a marvel.  There are a number of basement demos that would have been welcome on either of the "Hardcore Devo" discs.  Included are slower, more primitive versions of: songs from "Q&A" ("Sloppy"), a single ("Be Stiff") and three cuts from "Duty Now..." ("Pink Pussycat," "Strange Pursuit" and "The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprize").  And there's an alternate mix of an already released "Hardcore" song ("Goo Goo Itch").  There's a live version of the concert "classic" "The Words Get Stuck In My Throat" (which makes a little more sense than the studio remake, but not much) as well as a handful of unreleased songs ("Recombo DNA," the bizarre jam "Bushwhacked," the cool "Freedom..." outtake "Make Me Dance," the jokey, vocoder-led organ hymn "I Saw Jesus").  But the real centerpiece of disc one is an entire "alternate version" of the "Freedom Of Choice" LP which consists of 11 fully-fleshed out studio demos.  A few tunes apparently weren't demoed ("It's Not Right," "Ton O' Luv," "Freedom Of Choice"), but you get a demo of "Turnaround" (a re-recording of which ended up as a b-side), the frenetic "Time Bomb," which has never been released in any form, and "Luv & Such," an early version of "Mr. B's Ballroom" with completely different lyrics.  This alternate album is a real treat, with one track, "Gates Of Steel" (with revved up guitars), perhaps besting the released studio version.

Disc two starts off in a promising way, with interesting primitive demos of "Beautiful World," "Race Of Doom" (which loses a *lot* of its power in this stripped down form, but is still fascinating), "I Desire" and "Big Mess."  Unfortunately, disc two suffers from the same problem disc two of "Pioneers" did...mainly that the later material isn't nearly as interesting.  Granted you aren't subjected to any b-movie tracks here, but the unreleased tunes from "Shout" are uninspired, and the demos of songs from "Shout" and "Total Devo" are almost exactly identical to the final versions, thus making them redundant.  There are exceptions to the rule: three "new" cuts, "Love Is Stronger Than Dirt," "Faster And Faster" and "Modern Life" (the latter two of which featured in the CD-ROM game "Interestate '88") are all interesting additions to the Devo canon.  "...Dirt" is far too short and unrealized, but the latter two tracks--outtakes from the "Oh No!" sessions that were spruced up in 1998--are both great tunes.  On the other end of the spectrum, you've got the 18 minute opus "Somewhere With Devo," an ill conceived, mostly instrumental suite of sterile synth music that quotes a few old Devo tunes ("Social Fools," "Shout"), ends with a demo of "Disco Dancer" and whose central motif is "Somewhere" from "West Side Story."  If that sounds like interesting fodder for isn't.

Not quite as much of a mish mosh as "Pioneers," "Recombo DNA" is pretty much essential listening for any Devo fan.  Despite the unimaginative material that clutters most of disc two, disc one alone is well worth the price of admission ($40).  (


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