Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! [Warner Bros., 1978] B+
  • Duty Now for the Future [Warner Bros., 1979] B-
  • Freedom of Choice [Warner Bros., 1980] B+
  • Devo Live [Warner Bros. EP, 1981] C-
  • New Traditionalists [Warner Bros., 1981] B
  • Oh, No! It's Devo [Warner Bros., 1982] B+
  • Shout [Warner Bros., 1984] C
  • Total Devo [Enigma, 1988] C+
  • Smooth Noodle Maps [Enigma, 1990] Dud
  • Hardcore Devo Vol. 1 [Rykodisc, 1990] Dud
  • Greatest Hits [Warner Bros., 1990] A-
  • Greatest Misses [Warner Bros., 1990] **
  • Hardcore Devo Vol. 2 [Rykodisc, 1991] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! [Warner Bros., 1978]
If this isn't Kiss for college kids, then it's Meat Loaf for college kids who are too sophisticated to like Meat Loaf. Aside from music per se, the Kiss connection is in their cartoonishness--Devo's robot moves create distance, a margin of safety, the way Kiss's makeup does. But the Meat Loaf connection is deeper, because this is real midnight-movie stuff--the antihumanist sci-fi silliness, the reveling in decay, the thrill of being in a cult that could attract millions and still seem like a cult, since 200 million others will never even get curious. (It's no surprise to be told that a lot of their ideas come from Eraserhead, but who wants to go see Eraserhead to make sure?) What makes this group worthy of attention at all--and now we're back with Kiss, though at a more complex level--is the catchy, comical, herky-jerky rock and roll they've devised out of the same old basic materials. In small doses it's as good as novelty music ever gets, and there isn't a really bad cut on this album. But it leads nowhere. B+

Duty Now for the Future [Warner Bros., 1979]
Side one, with its not-funny-enough instrumentals and evasive satire, was dire enough to make me suspect they'd made their arena-rock move before there was an arena in the world that would have them. But "The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprize" and "Secret Agent Man" are as bright as anything on the debut, and the arrangements offer their share of surprizes. B-

Freedom of Choice [Warner Bros., 1980]
Hey now, don't blame me--I insulted them every chance I got back when your roommate still thought they might be Important. But now that that's taken care of itself we can all afford to giggle. Robot satire indeed--if they ever teach a rhythm box to get funky, a Mothersbaugh will be there to plug it in. B+

Devo Live [Warner Bros. EP, 1981]
Just what you've always wanted--live robots, and overpriced ones at that. Who prove their vitality by slopping around a little. Me, I think their precision is the joke and the joke is their all. C-

New Traditionalists [Warner Bros., 1981]
Filler plus three major songs, each of which gets an explanatory video in concert, which with these art-school ciphers is a comfort. In "Through Being Cool," a sexually and racially integrated platoon of "young alien types" do in fact "eliminate the ninnies and the twits," though rather than the bone-crunching tactics the lyric prescribes they utilize a ray gun that reduces two discoids to a Clyfford Still blur, transforms three joggers into old people, and blows two old people away. In "Love Without Anger" two humans in chicken suits bill and coo after fighting over pecking order. And in "Beautiful World" the mild closing disclaimer "But not for me" is amplified by a panoply of newsreel horrors. None of which will satisfy the ninnies and twits who think war toys and visual aids are evil by definition. B

Oh, No! It's Devo [Warner Bros., 1982]
Because their secret contempt for their cult receded once the cult gathered mass, moral impassivity that once seemed like a misanthropic cop-out (or worse) now has the feel of Brechtian strategy. They've never sounded wimpier, but they've never sounded catchier either, and with this band wimpiness has a comic purpose. "Time Out for Fun" is recommended as both text and music to leisure theorists who reject electropop as a matter of humanistic principle. B+

Shout [Warner Bros., 1984]
Marking time (actually, a computer marks it for them), they create the rock--no, new wave--equivalent of baseball's "Play me or trade me." I played it. Now I'm trading it. C

Total Devo [Enigma, 1988]
This package of "11 digital cartoons" is improved by the balloons, which distract momentarily from its retro-electro sheen. In case you were wondering (hadn't given it much thought lately myself), the Devo Philosophy has a lot in common with the Playboy Philosophy--as the Bard put it, to thine own self be true. Note quotes from John Lennon, Elvis Presley, and T.S. Eliot--quick, before the retro-electro comes round again. C+

Smooth Noodle Maps [Enigma, 1990] Dud

Hardcore Devo Vol. 1 [Rykodisc, 1990] Dud

Greatest Hits [Warner Bros., 1990]
Just when everybody agreed this new wave novelty act was full of poot, here came Pee-Wee's Playhouse, which was dreamt of in their "philosophy" but not mine. So OK, they were an Important Band, fabricating a minimalist funk of blatant entertainment value and covert sexuality. "Whip It" aside, what "hits" they had are the U.K. singles on the accompanying Greatest Misses, and the socialist cheapskate in me wishes they'd prepared a more economical tour--even if it would mean leaving off, say, the interlocking mechanisms of the ironically entitled "Gut Feeling," which missed me altogether on their first album. Even so, its peaks prove higher and more numerous than I'd have figured. Doody now for the future. A-

Greatest Misses [Warner Bros., 1990]
rule marginalia ("Be Stiff," "[I Can't Get No] Satisfaction," "Mongoloid," "Penetrationin the Centrefold") **

Hardcore Devo Vol. 2 [Rykodisc, 1991] Dud

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