Devo. If you went up to a random person on the street, and told them to name a Devo song, everyone knows they’d say “Whip It,” the smash 1980 hit that put Devo in the forefront of popular new wave music. The band was not always a 90% dance / 10% rock band, however. As with all new wave at the time, their roots were firmly centered in punk -- and though that influence might not be as obvious as it is in other new wave bands of that era (Blondie or the Clash, for example), it’s definitely there, and this release shows it.
Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, released in 1978, was the band’s first full-length album. You can tell mainly by the lack of the electronic sound that made the band famous. It’s a strange but catchy, fun but intense album to listen to. A lot of the dissonant harmonies will make you uncomfortable, and to great effect. Brian Eno’s excellent production keeps it clean but raw, which suits the music just right.
As the album blasts off with the fantastic “Uncontrollable Urge,” you realize that this Devo is still the lovable, quirky weirdoes who recorded their more well-known later releases, but you can also feel a more down-to-earth quality to their sound right away. The almost-standard punk-sounding guitar lines in many songs provide perfect backing to Mark Mothersbaugh’s strange and chaotic voice. You'll be singing "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, YEAH!" within seconds for sure. The infamous “Satisfaction” cover sounds like it was recorded with factory equipment. Rather robotic in nature, it removes all sensuality and, well, musicality from the original song. Somehow though, it’s good. This is the nature of Devo in a nutshell. They strip down these songs to their basic, mechanical core, but manage to keep it catchy.
“Praying Hands” and “Space Junk” are both catchy, medium tempo songs that can be stuck in your head all day. "Space Junk" has pretty funny lyrics as well, as with most of the songs on the album. “Mongoloid” is an even worse perpetrator of this, however! The chanting chorus of "Mongoloid he was a mongoloid / Happier than you and me" and all its variations will get burrowed in your mind, and refuse to leave. “Jocko Homo,” the album’s main single, is seminal Devo. Fun to listen to and sing along with, it’s just a great song all around, showcasing Devo’s amusing lyrics, with verses like "They tell us that / We lost our tails / Evolving up / From little snails / I say it’s all / Just wind in sails." “Too Much Paranoias” shows more of the intense, dissonant side of the band’s nature. With an echoing, uncomfortable chorus, it’s a strange song to listen to. It leads perfectly into the brilliant “Gut Feeling.”
“Gut Feeling” demonstrates a more mature, well-executed two-minute instrumental buildup that doesn’t feel like it’s going to stop. Giving you another uncomfortable, but more satisfying feeling than the previous track, the song feels like a train that’s speeding up faster and faster, heading towards a crash at the end of a track. But just when this train nears the end of the tracks, complete with intensely distorted guitar noise and an extreme feeling of claustrophobia, the song cuts into the speedy “Slap Your Mammy.” Probably the only song on this album that could truly be classified as punk in any way, “Slap Your Mammy” is very short, with classic distorted power chords pushing the track to its end. “Come Back Jonee” is a great track with some nice guitar work and fitting drumming, with more catchy vocals. “Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin')” is probably the funniest song on the album, in my opinion. It’s also very catchy! But honestly, how can you go wrong with lyrics like "I saw my baby yesterday / She spent her money on a car / I didn’t get her very far / So my baby said to me / You know my baby she / Said sloppy / I think I missed the hole?" After that humorous endeavor, the album finishes up with the fantastic “Shrivel Up.” Another tense, strange song, it’s mostly very subdued in nature, poignantly ending the album on a quiet note after the madness that took place beforehand.
All in all, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! is an excellent introduction to a band often labeled as a one-hit pop wonder. Between this and “Freedom of Choice,” Devo put forth some very intelligent, catchy, new wave music. In an era filled with so much awful crap on the airwaves, Devo was a breath of fresh air, with their subtle satirical messages well hidden within their songs. Oh, and as always, all you retards intending to post “LOLZ OLD ALBUM Y U REVIEW!?!?” -- keep it to yourselves, please. I know a lot of people who know nothing about Devo except for “Whip It,” and this review is mainly intended for those people.